HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said what happened Wednesday in Huntsville was two separate protest events, the second of which was “structured by people who were not part of our community.”
In a statement released Thursday morning Battle called the first protest event, which was organized in Big Spring Park by the local NAACP chapter, “a thoughtful event filled with hope and a call for justice.”
After the NAACP event ended at 6:30 p.m., protesters made their way from the park to the Madison County Courthouse square, where they continued to protest until just before 8 p.m., when police began using gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
A Huntsville Police Department spokesman said 24 people were arrested. Thursday morning, he clarified that one was arrested on a firearms charge, three are charged with receiving stolen property and the others were for disorderly conduct. Officers say the three people charged with receiving stolen property were in possession of fire extinguishers that had been removed from the parking deck on Clinton Ave.
In Thursday’s statement, Battle said police gave protesters time to express themselves before asking everyone to leave the square.
“The protesters had every opportunity to peacefully leave and they chose otherwise,” Battle said. “The leadership of this second group is not our community.”
“It is a hard thing for us to see in Huntsville, but we’ve worked too hard to grow this city as a place of respect and opportunity,” Battle said. “Let us turn pain into purpose and do the hard work to create meaningful change. We won’t let people and organizations from outside our community turn us against each other. This is a time for us to unite, to protect the city we love and to move forward in a way that is more equitable and just.”