Dozens of protesters walked west toward one of Casper’s busiest intersections, exchanging insults with a man shadowing them and yelling that “all lives matter.”
Behind the group were several Casper police cars with lights flashing. An officer through a bullhorn ordered demonstrators out of the street.
When the demonstrators reached the center of the intersection, many of them knelt. Some laid prone on their backs.
One man stood with a cardboard sign that said, “I can’t breathe.” Over the bullhorn, officers said the assembly was unlawful.
But as they did for much of the day, protesters ignored the orders. They stood and walked east, proceeding peacefully down the road. As they also did throughout Wednesday, officers remained largely in their vehicles and shepherded protesters through one of Casper’s main thoroughfares.
The demonstration came roughly midway through a seven-mile march that sprung from a more formally organized midday demonstration on the steps of Casper’s Hall of Justice. After a crowd of more than 300 moved from the building back toward David Street Station, smaller crowds walked east to Walmart and returned to downtown.
Marchers snaked up and down Second Street, stopping traffic in a mood that oscillated between celebratory and tense. The black leaders of the march sometimes exchanged fist-bumps with the mostly white, heavily-armed men in street clothes and tactical vests that followed the protest throughout the day. Those same men intervened on multiple occasions between protesters and onlookers.
The Casper protest followed a string of national demonstrations following the Minneapolis police killing of the handcuffed George Floyd, a black man. Video footage shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers in the video watch, and at one point, two of the officers can be seen holding Floyd as well.
The four officers were fired. Prosecutors — after protests had already begun to spread — charged Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, with murder. On Wednesday, authorities said that the other officers will also face charges.
The slow official response prompted extensive protesting in Minneapolis that soon led to looting and property destruction, including the razing of a police precinct building. At the national protests, further police brutality has sometimes been reported, including apparent indiscriminate attacks on protesters.
During the Casper protest, police made no arrests, a police spokeswoman said. Rebekah Ladd said police did not use force during the day.
Although the march remained peaceful for much of the afternoon, it was marked at moments by minor scuffles with counterprotesters. Although some counterprotesters carried long guns slung across their chest, the weapons largely remained pointed toward the ground. Another group of white men — who said they aimed to keep the peace and characterized their role as neutral observers — carried AR-15 style rifles, sometimes dissuading counterprotesters’ provocations.
Property damage associated with the protest was limited to the side mirror knocked from a truck and some damage to a protesters’ vehicle that jumped the curb in connection with apparently faulty brakes. Police issued a summons, Ladd said, in connection with damage to the truck’s mirror.
Many protesters acknowledged that they were unlawfully gathering in the street, but said it was important to be heard and seen by more of Casper than who were just downtown Wednesday morning.
“It’ll prove a point,” Mario Harris, a black man who participated in the protest, said of marching in the street. “It’s not about looting, riots, tearing sh— up, but if we have to walk through the streets to (be seen,) that’s what we’re going to do.”
Once the march started heading back downtown, after it had passed the Second Street and Wyoming Boulevard intersection, police turned on their sirens and started asking protesters to return to the sidewalk through a speaker on the vehicle. Bre Kelly, though, said she wasn’t intimidated.
“If we were on the sidewalk, I think people would just drive by and not pay attention to us,” she said.
The march across Casper began shortly after 1 p.m. on Second Street as a crowd of mostly black people walked east on Second Street. Demonstrators paused midway through the block, which police quickly closed. After dancing momentarily to NWA’s “F—- the Police,” protesters continued east for only a few blocks when a white onlooker holding a long gun and an apparently unarmed black protester began a quick shouting match. A mass of people walked into the intersection shouting at a group of men holding guns and the police nearby. As the shouts turned to chants of “black lives matter,” eight police vehicles pulled down Wolcott Street with lights flashing.
As police also arrived from Second Street, protesters turned away. Isaiah Dobbins — a black man who led the afternoon march at many moments — shouted at arriving police, saying that officers had protected the armed men.
As protesters continued out of time, occupying eastbound lanes of Second Street, the protest escalated again. Near Albertsons, a red pickup began revving its engine and pouring exhaust onto the marchers. The protesters responded with shouts and thrown water bottles, and one man punched out the truck’s side mirror.
From another nearby truck, a man said “They can’t beat guns. They can’t even afford guns.”
Before the situation escalated further, several men in street clothes carrying assault weapons and shotguns moved in and stood in front of the driver’s mirror.
“You guys are better than this,” one of them told the crowd.
The men shepherded the truck into the Albertsons parking lot, and the marchers sat down on the lawn. A man distributed a shopping cart’s worth of bottled water as the group huddled for shade. The man who punched the mirror had his hand bandaged by one of the men holding a gun.
Tricity Guerra, who was also among the protesters, told the Star-Tribune that she felt marching through one of Casper’s busiest streets would force people who may be apathetic about police brutality to pay attention.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if they were (paying attention,)” Guerra said. “This will make everyone bat an eye.”
The marchers continued east, varying between the sidewalk and the blacktop. When the demonstrators reached Walmart, police cars followed them and ran alongside, giving them a “lawful order” to get onto the sidewalk. The group ignored them, chanted and marched into the Walmart parking lot. They walked to the doors, which were locked, and took a knee.
Marchers then turned back around and walked back down to the major intersection, where police blocked traffic. A man in a white T-shirt shadowed them, yelling “all lives matter.” The group took a knee there, as the police continued to order them out.
As protesters walked to the intersection, Kerry Wells — whose idea prompted the kneeling — said there were a lot of people in Casper who didn’t come out today, and he felt it would be a good way to be seen.
“A lot of people in Casper don’t care,” Wells said. “We don’t know if we’re doing this right, but we’re doing something.”
The situation escalated again as protesters passed Second and Elk streets. A man standing on a side street shouted something and exchanged words with a man near the front of the group. The two stood chest-to-chest, and the other man shoved the protester. Several more demonstrators quickly gathered around, with some trying to separate the two as a police officer stepped in. One protester, standing behind the man, hit him in the face and darted off.
As more police cars pulled up, an officer shepherded the man away from the street and behind a fence. The march continued down Second Street.
Behind the main body of the protest, after it had passed Wyoming Medical Center, a loud crash and shouts turned the marchers around and had them running back toward the hospital. A green truck, which moments before had been full of protesters, had jumped over the curb and smashed through the park across the street from WMC. Chaos briefly reigned as the police, protesters and the armed men marching around them tried to sort out what happened.
A man in street clothes unholstered a pistol. Police waved people through the street. A woman lay flat on her back on the ground behind another car, as a health care worker and police knelt over her.
As police attempted to get the group back on course, police in tactical gear appeared.
According to people on scene, a truck ran into a median and police car near Wyoming Medical Center. It then ran off the road and into Conwell Park.
Three people were hospitalized with minor injuries, a police spokeswoman said. At about 6:30 p.m., police said they had not made any arrests in connection with the crash.
While the damaged truck sat still in Conwell Park, a person who identified herself as the driver — and two apparent passengers — told police that she had tried to use her brakes, but they didn’t function. A police officer on scene examined the floor mat and — while questioning passengers — indicated it folded and jammed itself below the brake pedal.
The truck was one of a number of vehicles driving slowly along with the protest. At times, it carried a number of people in the bed as well as the cab. After police descended on the park in response to the crash, protesters again took to the street, headed east.
Then, about a dozen officers wearing riot gear — in the day’s most significant police show of force — took to Second Street, walking single file spread across the street. As a drone buzzed overhead, marchers continued back into town before sitting on the artificial grass of David Street Station. Dobbins, speaking to the crowd, congratulated marchers for the distance they’d covered and said the effort was in honor of deceased people who could no longer say “f—- the police.”
Leah Ann Burton then spoke briefly as well. The black woman told the approximately 70 people seated in front of her: “The fight continues. We might be done today, but we are not done.”
As the evening’s demonstration concluded, Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters told the Star-Tribune that his agency was “grateful it was for the most part peaceful.” When asked about future demonstrations, the chief said: “We’ll continue to be as tolerant as we can,” while maintaining safety.
Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.
Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.
Shane Sanderson joined the Star-Tribune in 2017. He covers courts and law enforcement agencies in Natrona County and across the state. Shane studied journalism at the University of Missouri and worked at newspapers there before moving to Wyoming.
Councilman Mike Huber took issue with the groups of armed residents who patrolled downtown after Friday's demonstration. Councilman Steve Cathey questioned whether the protests went against precautions put in place because of the coronavirus.
"It's mostly scary to just kind of stand up as a minority, showing yourself as a person and showing what you want – the change that you want to see for people of your skin color and people of your ethnicity,” said one 16-year-old protester.
Morgan's picks include Casper's community howls and a march across the city.
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Demonstrators lay in the intersection of Wyoming Boulevard and East Second Street while protesting police brutality during a march across Casper on Wednesday. The protesters walked more than three miles from David Street Station to the east side Walmart.
A Casper resident who declined to give his name talks to a woman during Wednesday's march across Casper, which slowed traffic. "I understand how you feel, but they have a First Amendment right to do this," the man told her. "You need to slow down."
Paul Wood, a former EMT, treats protester Josh Eutsey, who injured his hand punching the side mirror of a counterprotester's truck Wednesday during a march on Second Street in Casper. The truck had been revving its engine and pouring exhaust at protesters.