When Fort Wayne police deployed their canisters of tear gas Friday night, there was no warning. People stumbled off choking and gasping for breath.
But the move only seemed to enrage the crowd that had grown from a traditionally peaceful Fort Wayne protest at 5 p.m. at the Allen County Courthouse to one with young people screaming close range at riot police and lobbing water bottles that spattered Clinton Street where they stood.
At the beginning, there was no visible sign of any police presence.
Sheila Curry Campbell, president of the local NAACP, and protest organizer Alisha Rauch said around 5 p.m. under sunny skies that they were pleased with the size of the crowd – at that time about 300 people – who had come out to spend their Friday evening standing with George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed in broad daylight Monday by police officer Derek Chauvin.
The seven-minute video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck until he became unresponsive and was moved to a gurney set off violent protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere, violence that came to Fort Wayne and ended in bursts of vandalism downtown.
The trouble started around 7 p.m., when protestors started to walk against traffic north on Clinton Street toward the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge. Police intervened. They warned the crowds to get out of the road, according to Caleb Thomas, 25, of Fort Wayne.
At that point, some protesters, younger than the original crowd, went down on their knees at the intersection of Clinton and Fourth streets, facing oncoming traffic and forcing drivers to veer around them or turn on Fourth Street, causing a bottleneck.
Further up from that intersection, police deployed tear gas without warning and the crowd grew angrier, resulting in a scene rarely seen in Fort Wayne: a line of police in black riot gear facing off against the crowd yelling at them and getting in their faces.
"Black lives matter," the protesters hurled at police and "No Justice No Peace." Others got personal and used taunts.
The police line stood and reinforcements came around 9 p.m. to form another human shield facing the courthouse. People started lobbing water bottles at police, hitting some of them and other bottles drenching Clinton Street where they stood.
When it seemed the situation was getting out of control, an officer stood on top of an armored vehicle in the middle of Clinton and warned protesters on a loudspeaker that the protest was no longer a lawful assembly.
Tear gas came without warning, scattering the crowd elsewhere, a block south on Clinton Street and a mob at South Calhoun Street and Wayne Street.
One young man sat on top of a car blocking that intersection while horns honked endlessly and music blared. When asked his name, he replied "unknown."
An earlier prediction by Jada Haynes, an Indiana State University student standing at the bottom of the bridge around 7:30 p.m., seemed to have come true. The criminology major took in the people blocking the intersection, the chants and the signs.
"It ain’t gonna get violent until the cops show up," Haynes said.
Rauch said at the beginning of the protest that she didn’t believe police violence was as prevalent in Fort Wayne as in other cities and she had not personally experienced it.
But George Knight, 43, at the bridge the same time as Haynes, disagreed.
"I’ve been stopped 10 times by the Gang Unit since I moved here two years ago," Knight said. As a member of Black Lives Matter, he was equipped with a personal body cam and showed The Journal Gazette the SIM card and press button to record.
Christopher Martin of Fort Wayne came prepared to help other protesters. As he gave himself a dose of Benadryl to soften the effects of the tear gas around 10 p.m., he had water bottles, hand sanitizer and face masks for others.
"I’ve been around the block a few times," Martin said. Police opened fire on the crowd and this type of police action was "the precise reason we came down here in the first place," Martin said.
By 10 p.m., police had all downtown intersections blocked with police vehicles and large tow trucks. Glass shattered at the Jimmie John’s restaurant at Wayne and Calhoun streets as one protester smashed his skateboard through the window.
At the corner of Wayne and Harrison, Jenica Collins stood. On Facebook, she had organized the protest for Saturday at 2 p.m. and the response was overwhelming. Many people said they were coming. It was something she’d never done before, she said.
Curry Campbell had taken her by the hand earlier and the two of them were planning the usual Fort Wayne protest. Music, speeches, pastors and plenty of indignation.
But Collins said she didn’t want "this," indicating the rioting around downtown, and looked up the street in discouragement. The Saturday protest has most likely been canceled.