Kevin Peterson Jr, a 21-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Clark County Sheriff’s office Thursday evening in Hazel Dell, a small community north of Vancouver, WA. Hundreds of mourners gathered the next night for a candlelight vigil at the site of Peterson’s death—a U.S. Bank parking lot on the east side of Route 99—to light candles, lay flowers and signs and mourn the loss of Peterson.
Dozens of right wing protesters arrived in the area to protest the vigil. A peaceful vigil was followed by flashes of conflict as mourners left the area to hold a march in downtown Vancouver, which ended with several arrests of mourners, journalists and one legal observer.
“The information I have is that upon entering the parking lot of a bank, the man reportedly fired his weapon at the deputies,” said Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins in a public press briefing Friday. “The deputies returned fire and the subject was tragically killed.”
Alisha, an activist who worked with Peterson’s family to organize the vigil, said the vigil came out of “wanting to honor and remember a life that was taken—an innocent life that was taken.”
Before the vigil began, about 30 people were set up waving Trump, “thin blue line” and U.S. flags a few blocks north on Route 99, where mourners would drive past on their way to the vigil. Several large trucks with giant flags circled the area, occasionally revving their engines and speeding up and down the highway.
Family members and Black Lives Matter activists spoke to the crowd about community strength and mutual support in the face of yet another Black man dead at the hands of police.
“This shit is not okay. We should not be dying, and they should not be covering it up,” Mac Smiff, Editor in Chief of We Out Here Magazine, told the crowd. “We are not slaves. We do not deserve to be captured. We don’t deserve to be watched and followed. This is not the life we’ve come here for. This is not what we were freed for.”
As the vigil continued peacefully, a growing crowd of around 20 people were gathered on the west side of Route 99 waving right-wing flags and yelling phrases including “all lives matter” and “Trump 2020.” A group of about 50 counterprotesters lined the east side of 99 calling back with “Black lives matter” and singing “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
At one point a handful of mourners crossed to the west side of the street and asked the other group to let the vigil continue in peace. It was agreed and the protesters moved north away from the vigil.
By the time the vigil ended at around 9:00 p.m, organizers had used vehicles to block traffic along Route 99 in response to several trucks speeding through the area close to mourners. As people flowed out of the area, several mourners became embroiled in heated dialogue and occasional skirmishes with at least 50 right-wing protesters a block north of the vigil at the 99 Saloon & Grill. Some interactions were civic-minded discussions, while others ended with two parties rolling on the pavement, punching each other as mace filled the air. Although several members of both groups were armed, no shots were fired.
There was no police presence at the vigil or subsequent confrontations. “I heard [one of the Trump supporters] on the phone with 911 begging them to come down here, and they wouldn’t come down here,” said Hazel Dell resident Renioc Hirsch.
“If they want to come up here, antifa and [Black Lives Matter], and have their vigil, that’s fine. But when you cross the line and you want to destroy our businesses and where I eat and bring my family? Not going to happen on my terms,” said Scott Mays, an Army combat veteran and Hazel Dell resident.
By 10:00 p.m., up to 300 people from the vigil had gathered at Esther Short Park in Downtown Vancouver, according to a press release from Vancouver Police. The crowd marched from the park to downtown Vancouver chanting and singing. Frontline Drumline, a local drumline that often plays at Black Lives Matter marches in Portland, played near the front of the group.
Around 11:00 p.m., the march arrived at the corner of Franklin St. and 12th, where federal officers engaged in a stand-off with protesters in front of the Vancouver Federal Building. After some tense moments, the crowd moved on through the neighborhood. Windows were smashed at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Clark County Juvenile Justice Center.
By the time the crowd returned to the park, it had reduced in numbers to about 100 people. Alisha announced the planned march was over and encouraged everyone to head home, reminding them that Peterson’s family had asked for a peaceful demonstration. Several people left and others began marching north again.
After winding further through the neighborhoods, the crowd circled back to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office where at least a dozen police cruisers and an armored all-terrain vehicle were staged. A small number of the marchers gravitated to a bail bond office where Scott Mays and two other men were standing guard. One of the men was armed with an AR-15 rifle. After 10 minutes and some words with protesters, the men left in an SUV. As the vehicle left the area, two shots were fired into the air.
Officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly minutes later and began slowly marching the few protesters left to the south where they returned to Esther Short Park.
Shortly after, at least 30 Vancouver Police vehicles arrived and began pushing the remaining marchers east along 8th St. and north along Esther St.
Mac Smiff and another journalist were arrested on Esther St, and at least one protester was arrested at the northwest corner of the park.
Officers pushed the remaining dozen or so people east, then north on Columbia St. to Evergreen St, making several arrests along the way, including one legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, before retreating for the night.