Cincinnati Police and marchers faced off in the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine during a night of protests over racial injustice.
Peaceful protest at the Hamilton County Justice Center started about 6 p.m., followed by a march that briefly shut down I-75.
Crowds later in the evening broke windows at the Hamilton County Justice Center and in shops along Race, Vine and Main streets in Over-the-Rhine. Police arrested several people during those later incidents the most intense civil unrest the city has seen since the 2001 police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in OTR.
Cincinnati demonstrators were protesting the May 24 death of an unarmed man named George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes as Floyd cried out that he was unable to breathe. Floyd was black. Chauvin, who is white, was subsequently fired and arrested on third-degree murder charges.
Local protesters also mentioned other recent deaths, including that of Breonna Taylor, a medical professional who died after Louisville police raided her home and shot her. She was not a suspect in a crime. Police officials say her boyfriend fired a shot at officers, though he says they did not identify themselves as police when they forced their way into Taylor's home on a warrant for another individual who did not live there.
Those deaths and others have sparked heated protests and civil unrest in those cities and others across the United States, with crowds breaking windows and setting buildings ablaze in Minneapolis and other cities.
The Cincinnati protest started with a peaceful rally in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse that drew roughly 200 people.
No particular group has claimed responsibility for organizing the event, and those leading it said it came together "organically."
"We're just free people in Cincinnati," an attendee named Jordan Telting who spoke often and led chants said.
Attendees chanted "no justice, no peace," and the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Telting and others decried disparities in the number of people who die at the hands of police proportionately more likely to be be African-American and other inequities in the justice system.
A march that wound through Over-the-Rhine to Cincinnati Police District 1 headquarters and back into OTR followed, where protesters and police exchanged a few words but no other conflict. At one point, police blocked off a section of Walnut Street on bicycles, leading to a tense standoff with a few marchers. But officers left after a few minutes and the march continued.
The march eventually made its way through the West End and ended up on I-75, where protesters surged over a partition between the northbound and southbound sides of the highway and marched through traffic stopped there. Many motorists honked and waved in support, though some shouted angrily at the group of roughly 100. One man exited his vehicle and threatened to fight a protester, then motioned as if he had a firearm. He then returned to his car and started backing up toward marchers before stopping. Marchers surrounded his car and threw items at it before police finally broke up the incident by pushing protesters back with bicycles.
Marchers left the highway at the Ezzard Charles exit and continued back to CPD District 1 headquarters, where tensions escalated. Police Chief Eliot Isaac spoke to individuals in the crowd from across a barricade, though it did little calm the anger.
"I've been a cop for 31 years, and I've never seen anything worse," he told one marcher who asked what he thought about Floyd's death.
Some marchers then moved back to the courthouse and subsequently the justice center. There, at about 11 p.m., a small group removed the center's historic marker ironically commemorating unrest in the 19th century that happened on that spot and threw it and several other items through windows at the county jail.
As a large group moved once again into Pendleton and OTR, police began using more intense tactics and equipment, including riot shields, flash-bang devices that produced small explosions and smoke with a chemical irritant and rifles that shot rubber bullets. Officers chased marchers westward across OTR before standoffs settled in on Race Street and Vine Street, where a number of shop windows were broken. Small crowds also moved north along Main Street breaking windows there as well.
Police closed off the intersection of Vine and 12th streets, where the largest remaining group of protesters were at about 1:45 a.m. A police helicopter circled the area and SWAT team members with assault rifles stood guard at the intersection.
There are also reports of damage to buildings farther south in downtown. Eleven people were arrested and two officers were injured.
Mayor John Cranley said the vast majority of attendees were peaceful.
"The people who engaged in criminal behavior last night were not part of the protests," he said in a news conference the next day announcing a 10 p.m. curfew in downtown and Over-the-Rhine over the next two days. "There is unfortunately and has always been in these episodes throughout American history a conflation between people who are exercising their right to free speech and people who take advantage."
This story will be updated.
Photos by Nick Swartsell