There is evidence of what a veteran civil rights demonstration leader calls “provocateurs” at work in the recent Dallas demonstrations.
What were supposed to be peaceful demonstrations over the Minneapolis death of George Floyd erupted into vandalism and looting Friday and Saturday.
An NBC5 photographer recorded video of individuals ready with buckets to cap police tear gas canisters when they were deployed. The buckets were then kicked back at police.
Piles of bricks were positioned along Commerce Street and Elm Street Saturday. Milk and water bottles were also placed in demonstration areas, evidently for relief from tear gas. Photos below were taken on Sunday night.
The source of these items can’t be verified but long time civil rights activist Reverend Peter Johnson said they suggest people were preparing to provoke a confrontation with police.
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“If you work in the social justice movement, you have to deal with what we call provocateurs,” he said. They’re people who have bad intentions if you would, to provoke our peaceful protestors into doing stupid stuff, and to use our peaceful protest for their own hidden agendas.”
Johnson said he was trained to deal with trouble makers while marching with Martin Luther King across the South in the 1960’s. He said leaders of the Dallas rallies were not properly trained.
“The responsibility of leadership is to make sure you get those people out of your protest and you point those people out to law enforcement so you don't destroy your message.” Johnson said.
Still recovering from coronavirus restrictions, Ellen’s Restaurant in the Dallas West End was serving meals to go Monday, but now boarded up after vandalism Saturday night.
Owner Joe Groves said he supports the cause of civil rights demonstrators, but not the looting.
“I think we have to be very careful in exposing who is actually doing a lot of this and in this particular case it was not the peaceful protesters,” he said.
Groves posted surveillance video online from Saturday night, showing a pair of White guys inside his restaurant wrecking the place, as peaceful protestors walked by outside.
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“Some of the kids that were doing this to our business were not part of that movement, they were opportunists, vandals,” he said.
Mark Brand, the Pastor of Antioch Church beside the West End DART rail station, said his church was vandalized Saturday night.
“There was food distribution out here in front of the church on Thursday and somebody comes and trashes us on Saturday. So that doesn’t feel very good,” Pastor Brand said.
He received cell phone video recorded that night of a multi-racial group throwing chairs at church windows.
“I believe there are people who are trying to leverage this situation,” he said.
When cleaning up the mess on Sunday morning, Brand said he found a pile of material that seemed like the work of professionals, planning arson. Luckily no fire occurred at the church.
“It looked to me in my untrained eye as if someone who knew how to start fires, knew what they were doing, and was trying to do it in a way that would spread very rapidly. And thankfully that did not happen,” he said.
Peter Johnson said he was trained to conduct demonstrations that guard against side distractions like those that occurred in Dallas last week.
“Leadership ought to have what we call, March Marshals, teams that are responsible for making sure the peace is kept. Consequently, your message can be clear and not tainted with broken windows or broken bottles or broken glass,” Reverend Johnson said.
Hundreds of damaged businesses around Downtown, Uptown and Deep Ellum demonstrate the distraction that Johnson said, successfully tainted the protests.
Johnson said he has spoken with other veteran civil rights leaders around the nation who believe similar provocateurs were at work in other cities, but he does not know who is behind the actions.