The rioting caught Simon Hinton by surprise. “It started on Friday with a protest for George Floyd,” he says. “I don’t even think the cops were expecting things to explode.” But what began as a peaceful demonstration in Omaha, Nebraska, got out of control quickly: Suddenly, “almost 1,000 people were in the streets in a massive battle between cops and protesters,” Hinton says. “And from that point on through the rest of the night, it was just a mess.”
That’s more or less what Hinton, 25, had been hoping for. The self-professed revolutionary communist attended the protest with his comrades to “try to agitate things politically,” he tells me. And it worked: “It grew exponentially. Next thing you know, there’s like 700 to 1,000 people in the street, marching straight down Dodge Street.”
The rioters faced off against a wall of riot police for hours, even briefly attempting to construct a makeshift barricade in the middle of the street using drywall and plywood from a nearby dumpster. “It was just all out war at that point,” Hinton says. “I mean, cops just tear-gassing indiscriminately.”
The scene in Omaha was mirrored throughout the country. As thousands gathered to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, a wave of looting and violent rioting swept many major cities, overwhelming local police departments and resulting in 17 deaths. But there continues to be widespread disagreement over which groups bear primary responsibility for the chaos that accompanied peaceful protests. Many argue that the looters were low-level opportunists using the unrest as occasion to break into unprotected stores while law enforcement was distracted; others see a significant portion of deliberate violence that seemed to be explicitly political in nature.