Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and other local leaders told a Saturday morning press conference that the level of unrest that rocked the downtown Friday night was incited by outside agitators. The mayor said police were forced to take action to defend public safety. He said the threat will not be tolerated again.
Police and protesters clashed near the Allen County Courthouse Friday evening. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed said at least 100 officers were deployed. Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux said about 35 to 40 deputies were stationed downtown.
Reed said 29 people were arrested.
Protests in Fort Wayne and cities around the country followed the death of a black man who was being arrested in Minneapolis. George Floyd died May 25.
Henry, Reed and Gladieux shared microphones with spokesmen for Fort Wayne United, the TenPoint Coalition and United Pastors of Fort Wayne.
Even as the news conference began, volunteers were cleaning up debris from around the downtown. Flower plants that had been toppled during the confrontation had been righted. Windows were still boarded up on several downtown streets, including one on the east side of the Allen County Courthouse.
"Those individuals behind me are taking their time to share with you that what we experienced last night was not Fort Wayne," Henry said.
"We have reason to believe that a number of the agitators weren't even from Fort Wayne or Allen County, so they are here to cause trouble," he said. "What started off as a peaceful demonstration — and I know because I witnessed it — got out of hand because of a few individuals who decided that they wanted to take this to the next level, take it to the point where you're disrupting traffic, causing traffic accidents, kicking car doors, climbing on top of cars, climbing onto semis.
"That's not the way that you demonstrate peacefully in the city of Fort Wayne. I've been mayor here for 13 years and I've seen a lot of demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations, demonstrations that have causes, that wanted to have their voices heard. My friends, last night was not Fort Wayne."
"What's Fort Wayne is what was happening and is happening right now over on Calhoun and Harrison streets," Henry continued. "Citizen volunteers are over there cleaning up the mess that was made last night. That's Fort Wayne. And as the police chief and the sheriff said, we will not condone what happened last night. When you put the lives of our citizens in danger, you've drawn the line in the sand. That is not Fort Wayne."
"To be the kind of city that others look at as the beacon on the hill, we have got to do better," he said. "This will not happen again in our city."