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Slain protester identified; downtown Omaha assesses damage from vandalism

Slain protester identified; downtown Omaha assesses damage from vandalism

  • Updated

OMAHA — Downtown Omaha cleaned up Sunday after a second night of protests over police treatment of people of color was marred by the shooting death of a protester by a private citizen and by vandalism.

Omaha police are investigating the death of James Scurlock, a 22-year-old protester, whose family declined immediate comment but said they would speak soon. He was shot outside an Old Market bar called The Hive, near 12th and Harney Streets. The sidewalk between 12th and 11th Streets on Harney was roped off with police tape.

The shooter was not immediately identified by police, though his name was known. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said during a 2 p.m. press conference that the shooter was still in police custody, but he had not been jailed. The shooter did not return calls or text messages seeking comment.

Police asked anyone with information about the shooting to call the homicide unit at 402-444-5656.

Social media was already abuzz about the shooting, including videos circulating of the incident. People had already set up online accounts to raise money for both the protester’s family and the shooter.

Officers were still taking police reports on damage downtown Sunday morning, as business owners boarded up broken windows and scrubbed graffiti off their walls, much of it expressing anger at police or solidarity with George Floyd, the man who died May 25 in Minneapolis police custody.

Preston Love Jr., an advocate for North Omaha causes, said Floyd's death spurred the protests because too many people in Omaha, including some police officers, treat the lives of black people as if they are valued less.

Scurlock also is African American. His death is the latest example, Love said, where someone made the decision that property was worth more than a human life. They are wrong to think so, he said.

Still, Love urged vandals to stop.

"We are unfortunately part of the national dialogue on the death of another African-American male," Love said. 

Protesters headed downtown Saturday night after police cut off a second night of protests near 72nd and Dodge Streets. A chaotic scene ensued as groups of officers tried to contain damage and protect buildings, including the City-County Building and the Douglas County Courthouse.

Protesters threw rocks or bricks through the windows of businesses large and small. That included Nebraska’s tallest building, First National Tower, and Culprit Cafe and Bakery at 16th and Farnam Streets, one of many businesses already reeling from coronavirus-related restrictions.

Protest Damage

Luke Mabie, owner of Culprit Cafe, 1603 Farnam St., talks to people on the street through a broken window on Sunday morning after a night of protests Saturday caused damage in downtown Omaha.

Culprit owner Luke Mabie got the call around midnight that his business had been vandalized, including each of his large windows that look out from the customer seating area into downtown Omaha. He arrived overnight to find five tossed bricks inside.

On Sunday morning, he said he was struggling to find wood to board up his windows, let alone a window contractor. Home improvement stores open later in the day, so he expected to be busy, he said. His business was still preparing orders for online delivery.

His shop has been delivering coffee instead of hosting customers since Douglas County restricted restaurants and similar shops in March. Many of those restrictions are set to loosen on Monday, though he expects to keep delivering Sunday and on Tuesday.

“There are tons of people who are hurting,” he said of the protesters. “But violence isn’t a very articulate way of stressing the needs and wants of a community. They don’t want this.”

Stan Nielsen, a downtown resident who lives near the courthouse, woke with the sun after a night of loud bangs from police projectiles and protesters tossing bottles, rocks, fireworks and bricks. The damage was extensive, he said, but not as bad as he expected.

“I was listening to bang grenades going off last night,” he said. “I could smell the tear gas. I thought about the guy who got shot down here. That was ugly. I was expecting the worst, and I thought somebody’s got to start picking this stuff up.”

Protest Damage

Pepper-spray debris is left outside the City-County Building, 1819 Farnam St. in downtown Omaha, on Sunday. Police and protesters clashed Saturday for a second night in Omaha.

By midmorning, people were driving downtown to see the damage. The Omaha Downtown Improvement District thanked "hundreds who came out this morning to help us clean up our neighborhood."

Nielsen spent much of the morning walking with a grabber and plastic bag and picking up trash from the courthouse area, where the nearby US Bank and Brandeis Building were damaged, to the Gene Leahy Mall, where graffiti covered parts of the adjacent state office building.

The reason: He calls this area home, and he wanted to check on the small-business owners he knows. He said he feels the worst for the bars and restaurants about to open to in-person dining and drinkers on Monday.

“Some of these business owners are my buddies. I know their families. They’re all little guys down here, mom and pops. I understand why everybody’s upset. I’m with them to a point, but not busting windows or writing that on the wall,” he said, pointing to graffiti.

Bryan Charles, a homeless man who spent the night downtown, said he saw a lot of people running around near the Omaha Public Library’s main branch. He called the situation crazy but said he understood why people were upset, and why police had to step in.

He deals with police often, and he says the way they react often depends on you.

“I feel a little bit ashamed by all this,” he said.

Lincoln also saw violence

In Lincoln, protesters and police in riot gear clashed late Saturday and early Sunday near the County-City Building. Tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were deployed on those in the crowd who lobbed objects, including fireworks, at law enforcement officers.

Across the street, protesters broke windows at the Landmark Centre and adjacent office buildings on Lincoln Mall, even as they were chastised by other protesters.

Some in the crowd were seen entering the buildings, in some cases sparking fires that others in the crowd carrying fire extinguishers worked to douse.

Hours after crowds dispersed, Lincoln firefighters were called to a fire at a multi-story insurance building at 601 S. 12th St.

Saturday night's violence followed less than 24 hours after incidents on Saturday morning centered in the area of 27th and O Streets.

This report contains material from the Lincoln Journal Star.

Photos: Second day of protest leads to damage in Omaha

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