This story was updated at 9:54 p.m.
Four protesters were arrested during a demonstration in St. Johnsbury Wednesday as protests against racism and police brutality have continued across the country.
Protests have erupted across the United States over the last week, sparked by video of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was pronounced dead after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes.
The St. Johnsbury Police Department estimated between 150 and 200 people showed up for a demonstration downtown mid-day Wednesday. The protest became physically and verbally confrontational between police and demonstrators, according to video footage, resulting in multiple arrests and prompting the town to bring in an independent investigator to review the incident.
Police said the gathering “remained peaceful” while the demonstrators stood in front of the post office on Main Street. The protesters then marched through town, blocking traffic while they crossed the road, police said in a statement, but otherwise staying on the sidewalk. When the group stopped in front of the police department, they followed directions to keep the fire department doors and the sidewalk clear.
According to police, protesters then walked back up Main Street before returning to the police station while blocking traffic on the road.
Police said they met protesters at the station and asked them to return to the sidewalk. Protesters refused, police said, and one person moved to block the other lane of traffic. When he refused to move, police arrested him. At that point, according to the police statement, the protesters “became unruly.”
Video of the protest posted on Facebook shows a chaotic scene, at times becoming physical between police and protesters.
People in the crowd held signs reading “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” and “Black Lives Matter,” and chants of “no justice, no peace” could be heard.
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At one point on the video, as police appear to take one individual into custody, an officer appeared to push a protester who was trying to stand between the police and the man being arrested.
Protesters could be seen blocking the entrance to the station as police brought the man, with his hands behind his back, up to the door.
When an officer approached the group in front of the station door, he appeared to push a woman who was holding a sign above her head. She staggered forward and rolled down the steps to the street.
VTDigger reached out to multiple people who were involved with the protest. None were immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.
On Facebook, one protester posted that the police “made NO effort to move us off the street; instead they began arresting people.”
St. Johnsbury police said in their statement that protesters “became unruly” after the first arrest.
“People were physically trying to keep Police from entering the building and it became necessary to get them out of the way,” they said.
The four protesters who were arrested are facing disorderly conduct charges.
“The St. Johnsbury Police department does not condone the actions of those Police Officers involved in the George Floyd incident,” police said. “Nor can we overlook civil disobedience when the safety of the protesters, the public and the police officers are at risk.”
Late Wednesday evening, Town Manager Chad Whitehead announced in a statement that St. Johnsbury would be seeking review of the encounter between police and protesters by an independent party.
“On behalf of the Town of St Johnsbury, I would like to say that we do not take lightly the events that occurred at our police station today. We have contacted an independent investigator to review the events that unfolded at the police station that involved protesters and the St Johnsbury Police Department. “
The town, he said, “will continue to support those that wish to peacefully protest deplorable acts of violence, such as those that occurred in Minneapolis, and would like to encourage our residents to remain open to our neighbor’s opinions and do not become divided as a community.”
Protests have been held in communities around Vermont, including Brattleboro, Burlington, Middlebury and Montpelier. At a protest in St. Albans Tuesday, one person was arrested.
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