Local Leaders React to Saturday's Riots
Chief of police, politicians, community leaders speak out
Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny
This violence was clearly planned ahead of time by a small group. It was very similar to the way riots unfolded in other cities across the country and was clearly following the same playbook.
While those who were arrested all live in Erie, we believe that there were professional rioters present from out-of-town because we overheard them asking for directions. These organizers know how to get away by using the crowd as cover.
In terms of the videos circulating online and the cameras all around downtown, we have several hundreds of hours of videos to watch. We will review all footage in the coming weeks. We are not aware of any civilian injuries. However, we invite anyone who would like to file a complaint, to do so now so that a formal investigation of the incident can take place.
Our first priority is on finding evidence of the felonies that were committed. Keep in mind that our officers were under deadly assault. They were attempting to peacefully disperse the crowd and were warned several times that they could be arrested. In the meantime, buildings we being lit on fire. Police needed to clear people out so they could get to the people who were causing the damage. Right now, our focus is on arresting the arsonists and the looters who set fire to our local businesses and tried to destroy downtown, and on preventing any further damage to our city.
We want to thank the State Police, which sent about 75 to 100 officers as well as a helicopter to aid us. We also want to thank the Millcreek Police Department, which sent multiple officers and an armored car and began handling all of our regular calls in the city as this unfolded. We also want to thank our Public Works Department for their quick action in getting the downtown all cleaned up. As we have more information, we will release it.
Erie Mayor Joe Schember
Like I've always said, I will continue to be open, honest, transparent, and accessible. The nation's eyes are on Erie because of this weekend's violence and destruction. People are outraged, as am I. I hurt, along with those across this nation and city who are suffering from racial injustice. This hatred and destruction is not our Erie. Unfortunately, there were outside instigators perpetuating the violence and vandalism and destruction to locally owned small businesses. The violence I've seen towards civilians, police, and our neighborhood business is terrible. I'm committed to a full investigation, and if warranted holding people accountable. As a community, we are bringing people together for real change. You've heard me say it many times, but I'm still committed to eliminating racism and prejudice in Erie. I want everyone to feel welcome and accepted. We've already made progress with The Police Athletic League, The People's Supper, and Strengthening Police-Community Partnerships. Our work isn't done and this will not stop us. I urge you to think about how you can help our community to heal from this and come back even stronger. Talk to each other, listen to your neighbors, and let me know your thoughts. We are Erie strong; we are better together.
Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper
It is so unfortunate that yesterday's peaceful protests turned violent. We stand with and for the many who exercised their rights peacefully early in the evening to demonstrate their frustrations and demand for change here in Erie County and across the nation after decades of inequity. We hear your fear and frustration. We see your pain.
In the past three months, this pandemic has exposed the inequities even more. We have worked very hard to support and protect every resident, but the gaps have been revealed. Locally, leaders continue to work together to reverse that and to invest in communities who need it most. We have had the conversations. We have been developing programs. We have been working to make education attainable and affordable.
But in order to effect change, we must work together. Everyone needs to contribute to the establishment of new, positive policy changes. These policy changes are what will make an impact. The policy changes must be inclusive of everyone – of every age, race and gender – especially those individuals most impacted by the evident inequities. We are proud of the energy our residents have generated against the current issues.
We urge every one of you to exert this energy in positive ways for Erie County. These are your businesses. These are your families. These are your opportunities. We need your help to support and protect our community at every level now more than ever. We believe in our great Erie County residents and leaders and expect positive and safe actions to be taken.
Gary Horton, President of Erie Chapter of the NAACP
What they didn't see was a similar type police response, and that is the thing young people are holding onto. They want just fairness.
Rev. Charles Mock, Community Missionary Baptist Church
Mayor Jacob [Frey] has stated that what is going on in Minneapolis — mayhem, chaos, destruction — is no longer about Mr. George Floyd's death. I dare to differ. Although I disagree with such acts of violence, what such words fail to understand is these violent displays that are insults to injury, are indeed about Mr. Floyd's death. Mr. Floyd is now the poster child of all the deaths of innocent people that were victimized by the abortion of justice in a three-tier justice system. While we detest and condemn such actions, the fallout represents a history of unrelenting violence that has taken place in America at the hands of injustice. Placing distance between legitimate protesters and extremists, ideologues, international organizers, and the like, is escapist spin. Like COVID-19, illegitimate and exploitative protesters reveal what is concealed — not give birth to it. As long as invisible political machinations operating behind the scenes are not dealt with openly and honestly, national, state and local leaders cannot blame exploitative violence on others. Unjust laws, policies and practices are the fuel that ignite fires and brings down cities one by one. We all place matches in the hands of extremists when we fail to act responsibly as citizens, punting our responsibility to others who may or may not have public interest at heart.
Bishop Dwane Brock, African American Concerned Clergy
There is a systematic, executionary situation happening with black men all over the country. Many of our white brothers and sisters of good will really just don't understand ... we are tired of prejudiced behavior; we are tried of bigotry; we are tired of institutionalized racism; we are just tired. Yes, there were riots all over the country last night and for the last few nights — riots, looting, etcetera, etcetera — and there are people that are concentrating on the rioting instead of what has caused the rioting.
State Rep. Ryan Bizarro
The events of the weekend, and the senseless acts against black Americans, are weighing heavily on our nation and our community. The injustices and struggles people of color continue to endure are disgraceful and must end. While I may never fully understand all the challenges they face, I stand firmly against racism.
Protesting is an important part of implementing change, but I believe our community must do so peacefully and without causing harm to others or property. I am calling for peace and unity in our community and for us to join together in support of our black neighbors, family and friends. They are afraid for their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and more. We must be there to comfort and support them in this time and emerge with a new respect and camaraderie so we can make meaningful and bold steps to eradicate racism.
State Rep. Pat Harkins
I was deeply saddened with what unfolded last evening in Erie and across the country. The death of George Floyd was terrible, but this is no way to honor him – he wasn't a violent person. We must work as a community and as a nation to correct the problem that faces us dealing with all races. As Bobby Kennedy once said, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
State Rep. Bob Merski
This weekend in Erie, peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd erupted into violence. It isn't hard to understand the anger: George Floyd's death at the hands of police was brutal and senseless — and sadly, a familiar reality for so many Americans of color.
While destruction is not the answer, it is a painful realization that change is long overdue. The seeds for change are there — so many of our local men and women in law enforcement — including my father, who was an Erie County Sheriff — are good, decent people who share a sense of outrage with the rest of our community over this incident.
"As we call for an end to violence, we also need to act — to demand police professionalism and changes to societal systems that for too long have marginalized people of color — so we can restore a dialog of trust.