HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said anarchists from out of town are responsible for escalating tensions that led to police clearing out protesters with gas and rubber bullets Wednesday evening.
The people who remained on the courthouse square after an NAACP rally earlier that evening and didn’t leave after police told them to leave were prepared to fight, McMurray said in a news conference Thursday.
“They set the precedent,” McMurray said. “They set the guidelines. They wanted to go hand to hand at that time. We do not want to go hand to hand with any citizen.”
McMurray said he and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner were within their authority to declare the gathering an unlawful assembly and were trying to get the crowd to disperse before the sun went down. Turner said crowds were given 90 minutes after the NAACP event to leave, and most of the attendees did.
“We showed patience for 90 minutes, and we knew dark was coming,” Turner said. “We didn’t want anything to happen to our downtown area. We did not want anything happening to that courthouse.”
McMurray said state and federal law enforcement partners shared intelligence with them that anarchists from out of state came with the intent of getting local protesters agitated. A total of 24 people were arrested; McMurray said many of them were young, local residents who were stirred up by outsiders and then left in trouble while the outsiders left town.
“The anarchists who came prepared and armed, they’re now going to another city to do the exact same thing,” he said. “They know how not to get arrested.”
Those out-of-towners hid weapons in the area like knives, pipes and bottles of yellow fluid that the police are testing, authorities said. They also said the people in the crowd who showed up with backpacks, first aid kits and masks and protective glasses to hand out to others did not want a peaceful protest.
“You could tell there was a fine line of the people that was in that park and the people that was on the square,” Sheriff Turner said.
Law enforcement was scheduled to meet with the local NAACP chapter later Thursday.
“I think we’re going to talk to the NAACP and make sure we remain on the same friendly terms with that organization,” McMurray said. “They’re our friends.”