Officials, residents praise Naperville police for protest response

  • City council members praised Naperville police officers for their professionalism and restraint as they handled a peaceful protest that became destructive Monday night.

      City council members praised Naperville police officers for their professionalism and restraint as they handled a peaceful protest that became destructive Monday night. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/3/2020 4:57 PM

Naperville officials are praising the city's police department for everything that didn't happen late Monday when a protest about the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned destructive.

There were no deaths, gunshots, fires, overturned police vehicles or use of tear gas by Naperville police. There were no reports of police injuring anyone. And for that, many city council members and residents heaped thanks on officers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm very proud of them for doing exactly the kind of thing that is good police work -- being restrained, using the techniques of de-escalation, being ready but not overreacting," city council member Judith Brodhead said. "It was exactly that kind of police work that prevents events like the tragedy and the death of George Floyd."

Police Chief Robert Marshall said his department had 30 officers stationed near the downtown intersection of Washington Street and Chicago Avenue to control roughly 300 to 400 protesters.

It was difficult, he said, to secure the usual mutual aid from nearby departments because their officers were busy protecting their own residents and businesses from threats of mob action. So Marshall said police made tactical decisions as things "dramatically changed" from a peaceful protest to a chaotic one around 9:30 p.m.

Even as instigators threw explosive devices at officers, causing eye and ear injuries to at least three of them, officers did not retaliate, Marshall said. Police on Wednesday posted video of the device exploding at the feet of a line of officers, who backed up and regrouped. Officers responded to reports of damage at businesses when the crowd began to scatter, and by 11 p.m., they received help from state and federal agencies.

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"Our officers protected life, made arrests and kept the situation from escalating to a level we have seen across the country," Marshall said during Tuesday evening's virtual city council meeting. "Our officers did exactly what they were supposed to do."

The response worked, Marshall said, because officers took into account the fact peaceful protesters remained even when instigators began to throw bricks, rocks or boards at store windows, then run inside and grab items.

Roughly 30 downtown businesses were damaged. Eleven people were arrested and the investigation continues.

"We don't deploy blanket tactics like tear gas when only some individuals are becoming violent and committing criminal acts," he said.

City council member Benjamin White, the first black person elected to the council, said he was proud of the peaceful protesters and of the police department for putting to good use the training officers have received in avoiding implicit bias and de-escalating crisis situations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The professionalism your department showed yesterday was remarkable," White told Marshall.

Residents also chimed in, speaking out against online comments in which some people have called for a harsher police response.

"It seems that far too many had an expectation that police should have immediately cleared streets of all activity including peaceful protesters, arrested everyone present and, as one person said, 'cracked some skulls,'" resident Tim Messer said. "Others claimed that the police 'did nothing and let people riot.'"

Messer, instead, joined voices that called the police actions appropriate and positive. Resident Mark Urda shared similar sentiments.

"I have tremendous pride in the professionalism and the bravery exhibited by our police force in these very, very trying times last night," Urda said Tuesday. "I want to thank specifically the police chief and the entire police force for, in fact, keeping us from the arsons, keeping us from the murders. If it's not appreciated by some, believe me, it's appreciated."

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