ROCKFORD — Members of the Rockford Police Department, on Sunday, removed an encampment occupied by protesters outside City Hall.
The space had been occupied since October by a group that was protesting the officer-involved shooting of an armed Black man. The man survived and the shooting was later ruled justified.
City officials and police had a number of clashes with demonstrators since the protest began. Several people were arrested for blocking a City Hall entrance while tensions erupted over chalk markings protesters made on sidewalks and building. Officials say those tensions escalated in recent days and that the occupation was in violation of local codes.
“We understand their right to protest and, during the last three months, we have allowed them to continue – even though they have been in violation of a number of municipal codes,” the City of Rockford posted on its Facebook page. “However, as of today, we are no longer allowing protestors to live at City Hall. Recently, the rhetoric and actions of these individuals has escalated. Protestors have harassed, intimidated and threatened employees and private contractors coming in and out of the building and while performing their job duties. Last week, they verbally berated employees from our contracted maintenance team, who were simply picking up trash that had been left by the protestors. Also last week, they followed employees to their cars while verbally attacking them and prevented one from being able to leave the parking lot. This cannot be tolerated.”
Mayor Tom McNamara tweeted about the situation Sunday, saying, “I respect the right of individuals to protest. However, verbal attacks and threats of violence are now being aimed at City employees and contractors who are simply doing their jobs and serving the citizens of our community. This is unacceptable. I must create an environment where City employees, contractors and the public feel safe to come to work and conduct business at City Hall. As I have my entire time in office, I welcome and encourage citizen input through thoughtful and respectful dialogue”.
While demonstrators retrieved most of their personal property, police and members of the city’s Public Words Department removed tents and other items protesters refused to move, officials said. Several videos of the tear-down circulated on social media Sunday night, including one in which activist Leslie Rolfe states he is not leaving the protest site.
Rolfe has scheduled a press conference for 5 p.m., Monday, at the former encampment.