Home News VIDEO: Anti-war protesters angry over Syria strike brawl with police

VIDEO: Anti-war protesters angry over Syria strike brawl with police

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A Friday evening protest against the U.S. military action in Syria erupted into violence at Hemming Park downtown and resulted in the arrests of six people, one of whom was hospitalized.

The initially peaceful demonstration escalated about 6 p.m. as protesters clashed with counter-protesters. Then a confrontation between two of them sparked a melee. People in the crowd recorded the incident as it unfolded and uploaded videos to social media, providing glimpses of the mayhem detailed by police.

Officers monitoring the crowd that was an estimated 100-200 people deep were attacked — punched, kicked, and in one case choked — as they tried to break it up, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. None was seriously hurt.

Under arrest were protest organizer David Marlow Schneider, 27; Connell Aubrey Crooms, 26; Christina Elizabeth Kittle, 27; William Thomas Wilder, 74; Thomas Craig Beckham, 26; and Robert Gordon Sheffield, Jr., 67.

Their charges ranged from battery on a law enforcement officer to inciting a riot to resisting police with violence, according to their arrest reports. One was charged with marijuana possession.

Crooms was taken to UF Health Jacksonville with injuries that police said were not life-threatening. Hospital staff could not disclose his condition late Friday, noting that arrestees are left out of the normal queue.

One video shows Schneider and Crooms perched on a concrete platform taking turns with a bullhorn and leading chants of “Hands off Syria!” and “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East” when a counter-protester who goes by Gary Snow, waving a Donald Trump flag and a bullhorn of his own, climbs up alongside them.

The two sides jaw back and forth briefly before a scuffle ensues over the flag. Crooms lunges forward after Snow reaches around an officer to flash an obscenity. Officers nearby swarm the pair and can be seen placing Crooms in a chokehold and bringing him to the ground.

Crooms, whose police report lists him at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, can be seen flailing while face down on the ground as several officers pin him down. An officer, identified as Officer B.D. McEwan, is seen repeatedly punching Crooms in the ribs while he is restrained.

“It should have been resolved way better than it was. There shouldn’t have been no fighting,” one witness, Tavaris Beaver, said. “For the police to beat another guy and slam another woman, I don’t think there’s no peace in that.”

Around the same time, Kittle can be seen trying to intervene as Beckham and others are detained, but she is swung to the ground by an officer and then placed in an armbar. Her arrest report indicates an officer was shoved and then punched beforehand.

“The only thing the girl was doing was breaking it up, but she gets slammed on the ground and put in handcuffs,” Beaver added.

Moments later, officers can be seen dragging Crooms to a waiting patrol car. That’s where several videos end, but Beaver said he saw the man later placed into an ambulance.

“They didn’t tell nobody anything. They just told us to back up,” said Beaver. “I feel like there ain’t no justice. Not for my child, not for your child, not for anyone’s children.”

Wilder was taken into custody after police said he fought with an officer and was punched several times in the face so the officer could “gain compliance.”

As the crowd thinned, officers saw a man splash a woman with a cup of liquid. That led to Sheffield’s arrest.

Schneider, whom authorities identified as the primary organizer, was chased down as he walked away from the plaza, detained and later placed under arrest for inciting a riot.

The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, which organized the protest, has scheduled a second demonstration beginning at noon Saturday outside the Duval County Courthouse. There protesters will call for the release of those jailed Friday.

Garrett Pelican: (904) 359-4385

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