BROCKTON — A chaotic scene developed outside the police station Tuesday night, where hundreds of protesters faced off with law enforcement dressed in riot gear following an otherwise peaceful protest and rally at a middle school.
At several points the crowd chanted “George Floyd,” the name of the Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes on Memorial Day. They begged police to kneel down with them in a gesture of solidarity against police brutality.
As several hundred protesters amassed on Centre Street in front of the police station, police set up a perimeter around the station and started marching out, forcing back protesters as they fled. Tear gas canisters flew back and forth as fireworks popped and crackled overhead.
A Globe reporter who was hit in the face with pepper spray as police forced the crowd back was quickly aided by protesters, who poured milk over his face and eyes and led him back to his car to recuperate.
The violence started around 8:30 p.m., about an hour after the rally ended at West Middle School. A group of people left the rally and headed to city hall, where they held signs, said Darren Duarte, a spokesman for Brockton police.
But the crowd quickly grew to hundreds.
State Police sent troopers to assist local police after protesters began throwing bottles and fireworks at officers, said David Procopio, a department spokesman.
People smashed windows and fought in the street as police formed a line beneath a railway overpass on Center Street. By 9:45, protesters and police faced off on Center Street, as police stood in riot gear in a line facing scattered protesters.
One protester stood on the corner of Centre Street, smashing the glass window of a storefront.
Others begged him to stop.
“Why are you tearing up the city?” one asked.
Shortly after 10:30, the group began smashing the windows of a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts store, and set it on fire as the crowd cheered. Police moved in with batons and dogs.
By 11, the crowds began to disperse and police cars began to drive off. A row of officers, some Brockton police and some military, remained in the center of the intersection with the dogs as the crowd dwindled.
A woman who gave her name as AP stood in the center of the street shouting a chant by herself as she faced a line of police. She said she had been protesting since 5 p.m. and chose to go to the streets because she is a single mother of three children.
“I do this for my kids and for my family,” she said.
Brockton Mayor Robert F. Sullivan told WCVB-TV that the violence “saddens me greatly.”
He said the night started “with a wonderful” peaceful rally at the middle school. “This has changed drastically,” he said, noting projectiles were thrown at police and and fireworks set off.
“It’s just a sad day."
Sullivan said he had “full faith and confidence in the leadership” of the Brockton police.
In a statement issued shortly after midnight Tuesday, Sullivan the rally at the middle school drew “300-400 peaceful protesters” who " expressed themselves and shared their frustrations and pain over the murder of George Floyd and other unjust killings of black citizens across the country."
The separate march that followed to the police station " became tense and violent as a small group of aggressive agitators threw projectiles, including bottles and rocks, at officers," Sullivan said.
A state trooper was struck by an object and suffered minor injuries, he said. Several Brockton police officers also suffered minor injuries, he said.
“Officers were also subjected to assault with fireworks tossed by agitators and police used tear gas to disperse unruly crowds,” he said.
Downtown businesses and the court house were damaged, the statement said.
Hiawatha Bray and Kathy McCabe of the Globe staff contributed to this story.