Unrest roiled Hazel Dell and downtown Vancouver on Friday night as hundreds of demonstrators and counterdemonstrators marched in the streets and scuffled in the wake of the police shooting of a local Black man. More protests were planned for Saturday night — but city officials closed Esther Short Park to the public, and nothing was happening there in the early evening.
An investigation is still underway into the fatal shooting of Kevin E. Peterson Jr., a 21-year-old Camas man, on Thursday in a Hazel Dell bank parking lot. At a press conference Friday, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins said a narcotics investigation led to deputies chasing a man on foot. The man reportedly fired at the deputies, who returned fire and killed him. The man was later identified as Peterson.
A small vigil quickly materialized Thursday night at the closed U.S. Bank branch at 6829 N.E. Highway 99. After word spread Friday, another vigil drew hundreds of protesters carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs, as well as a crowd of counterprotesters waving American and pro-Donald Trump flags.
That group lined the sidewalk of the Hazel Dell Fred Meyer store nearby. There were skirmishes between members of the two groups, according to some media reports, but police did not arrive on the scene.
Later in the evening, organizers moved their demonstration to downtown Vancouver. According to a statement from Vancouver police, the group grew to approximately 300 people. They began marching at approximately 10:15 p.m., “taking over the street and blocking traffic … their peaceful conduct switched to destructive behavior to include destruction of property and vandalism,” the statement says. Several dumpster fires were reported to police.
Marchers eventually headed for the Evergreen Boulevard overpass, apparently on their way to the Vancouver Police Department headquarters building, but were blocked by police cars. They turned back and approached the Clark County Courthouse and the Federal Building across the street, which was protected by federal officers. Downtown windows were smashed and walls were tagged with graffiti along the way. (Anyone who has not been contacted by police and needs to report property damage should call 311.)
Just after midnight the group “became more aggressive as it congregated by the Clark County Jail and began throwing rocks at law enforcement personnel,” the statement says. The crowd was ordered to disperse, but reconvened near Esther Short Park.
Videos posted by people on the scene show large crowds, verbal confrontations and scuffling along lower Main Street. Shots were fired into the air by one person, according to police, but no one was injured. At nearly 1 a.m., police again ordered the crowd to disperse. The following people were arrested for failing to do so:
• Daniel C. Ring, 28, of Vancouver.
• Laura L. Vetsch, 28, of Eugene, Ore.
• Ruby D. Martin, 31, of Eugene, Ore.
• Fahiym B. Acuay, 39, of Portland.
• Michael B. Rivera, 39, of Camas.
• Nick I. Caleb, 37, residence unknown.
No chemical munitions were used by police, the statement said. Investigations into criminal acts are continuing.
On Saturday morning, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and some fellow city councilors worked to paint over downtown graffiti. That’s also when word went out on the Facebook page of a group called Activate Republicans, Clark County WA, that a pro-police, pro-Trump, “Save Vancouver” rally would convene at 6 p.m. in Esther Short Park — early enough to “pack the park” in advance of a Black Lives Matter rally expected at 9 p.m.
“Bring flags and whatever protection you think is relevant,” the post said.
The “Save Vancouver” rally was organized and posted by David Gellatly, a local Republican activist. But by early afternoon his “Save Vancouver” rally post, claiming that troublemakers and rioters were coming from Portland to destroy Vancouver, was taken down by Facebook for violating its community standards.
The event would proceed anyway, Activate Republicans vowed. Vancouver resident Joey Gibson, founder of a right-wing group called Patriot Prayer, also promoted the event via Twitter.
A few downtown vendors and staffers at the Robert L. Harris Juvenile Justice Center were spotted boarding up windows on Saturday afternoon, and vendors with the Vancouver Farmers Market — which usually stays set up overnight on weekends — were instructed to pack everything and vacate Esther Street until Sunday morning.
Signs went up in the late afternoon saying Esther Short Park was closed to the public as of 7 p.m. Saturday. At 6 p.m., Esther Short Park was mostly empty. So was the Vancouver waterfront. A group of Vancouver Police were seen in conference behind City Hall.
The Saturday statement says the Vancouver Police Department — which was not involved in the shooting of Peterson — has demonstrated its commitment to improving trust and policing practices “through the City’s Community Task Force on Policing.”
“Destructive behavior is contrary to the goals of the city, the Vancouver Police Department and our community, and will only lead to deeper scarring in our community,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
Vigil planned Sunday
A silent vigil in remembrance of Kevin Peterson and several other people of color recently killed by police is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Vancouver Waterfront Park.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with Peterson’s funeral expenses. Visit https://gf.me/v/c/drt7/kevin-peterson-jr.