The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in east-central Florida released video of a block party attended by thousands last Saturday after attendees said they were being unfairly targeted because they are black.
The gathering drew an estimated 3,000 people in DeLand, Fla., on May 16. Volusia police were monitoring the event, which was a memorial for a man murdered in 2008, attendees told the West Volusia Beacon (h/t Newsweek).
“Because the majority of the crowd were black & the deputies/police were white, we have to face the issues,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said on Twitter in response to attendees’ complaints that arrests were racially motivated. “I don’t accept the accusations that we’re racists, or that our actions Saturday were racially motivated. It’s not true, and it’s not a fair conclusion from the video.”
The video shows large swaths of people standing close together on the streets, many of them without face masks. Even though the event violated guidelines from Florida’s Department of Health, which has advised against gatherings of more than 250 people, police didn’t get involved until night fell.
“I think they’re running it until 10, so, just so we don’t have a big problem, let’s let them run it until 10 as long as they behave,” one officer says in the video.
At around 10:30 pm, officers say they became concerned about pedestrian safety when they spotted a rifle being displayed out of the open window of a passing car, pointed at a crowd that had congregated around a gas station.
Tensions between police and the memorial attendees began escalating when officers began telling attendees to get out of the road and move their cars. But the turning point appears to be when the police arrested two men they say were involved in a firearm exchange.
Later, two men, Alphonso Parker and Charles Turner, were seen exchanging a firearm and were taken into custody after resisting officers. Turner, who had been out on bond on other charges, was charged with two counts of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting an officer without violence.
Parker was arrested on the same charges, with the exception of tampering with evidence. He was also charged with possession of a concealed firearm.
The arrest drew an immediate backlash from the crowd, with some shouting at the police that the two men who were detained didn’t do anything.
“This is what they do to black people,” one attendee told The West Volusia Beacon. “It’s not fair.”
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office says law enforcement was struck with glass bottles, jars, and bar stools as they began trying to break up the party. As Newsweek reports, the department says they made seven arrests in total, with two officers sustaining minor injuries.
After The West Volusia Beacon story went up on Sunday, Sheriff Chitwood posted several threads on Twitter the next day, speaking at length about race and policing.
“Our country has an ugly history of racism and bigotry, and the chapters are still being written today,” Chitwood wrote. He defended the actions of the police, saying they had a “responsibility to step in” once they saw a gun pointed at a crowd.
“But given everything we know about our nation’s history, I also know those feelings aren’t just about Saturday night,” Chitwood continued. “That’s why I’m asking everyone to hit pause and take a second to cool off, myself included.”
When asked whether enforcing “social distancing” was on the mind of police, Chitwood said it wasn’t.
“Look at anywhere else in the state of Florida, these events are occurring, so, you’re not going to put the kibosh on it because another one is going to pop up somewhere else,” he said. He also pointed to controversial social distancing arrests in New York City, CNN reports.
“It’s a personal responsibility (social distancing), it’s not law enforcement’s job to enforce quote-unquote social distancing,” he said.