HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – What started as a peaceful rally against police brutality hosted by the NAACP in Downtown Huntsville ended with tear gas being used to disperse protesters at the Madison County Courthouse square.
More than 1,200 people gathered to hear local leaders and activists speak including State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, and Huntsville City Council members Devyn Keith and Will Culver.
The NAACP rally ended at 6:30 p.m., but the majority of the crowd chose to march from Big Spring Park East to the courthouse.
About 45 minutes later, around 7:15 p.m. roughly half of those protesters remained on the square, holding signs and chanting. That’s when law enforcement officers first told them to leave.
Around 8 p.m., authorities deployed several different riot control techniques including audio dispersion, then tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets. Around the same time, the massive Huntsville Police and Madison County Sheriff’s Office presence was joined by at least a dozen State Trooper units.
Law enforcement officials broke up the remaining couple dozen protesters still lingering in Big Spring Park just after 9 p.m., about an hour after the first tear gas canister was used.
Huntsville police confirmed they made over 20 arrests during the protest and more could be pending. Huntsville Police Lieutenant Michael Johnson said one HPD officer was injured during the protest after something was thrown at his head.
“The verbiage, threats, the hostility, the blocking the road, we just cannot have that,” said Lt. Johnson. “We tried to use means to disperse everyone, minimal force if necessary. We used the sound device. Several commands were made to disperse and at that point they were and unlawful assembly blocking the road. So that’s at the point where we had to make a decision. Do we pack up and leave? Turn our backs and hope for the best? That is something that we cannot do. We are not going to let this city go through what other cities are going through.”
The House Minority Leader raised the question as to why Alabama State Troopers were brought in to help clear the scene. Rep. Anthony Daniels said he intends to talk to city and county leaders and the head of the Alabama law enforcement agency on Thursday to get some answers.
“I am very surprised at the actions that have taken place,” said Rep. Anthony Daniels. “The individuals during the time of the protest were very cordial, very peaceful. I was just very surprised that things escalated to the point where tear gas is being thrown and aggression had taken place. I am very disappointed in the actions. I have called for our local and county leaders to explain to me why in the world would the State Troopers be in Huntsville, Alabama. This is not Selma on Bloody Sunday! We have the manpower locally to deal with this. They dealt with this locally on Monday. I didn’t see the type of behavior that one may have described as aggressive from the protesters to warrant this action.”
One business downtown was damaged, a window was broken at the Kaffeeklatsch at Clinton Street and Jefferson Street.
City employees got an early start prepping the courthouse square for protestors. And businesses around the square were encouraged to close up shop well before the NAACP rally was slated to begin.