Protests erupted in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Sunday after a police officer fatally shot a 27-year-old man who allegedly ran at him with a knife.
Police posted the officer’s body camera video on social media, which appeared to show Ricardo Munoz chasing the officer down a pavement with a knife. The officer shot and killed Munoz, who died at the scene.
Munoz was mentally ill – diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – and had not been taking his medications, his sister told local media outlet Lancaster Online.
Rulennis Munoz, 33, said she had called a crisis intervention organisation and a police non-emergency number to get her brother involuntarily committed.
“He had an episode. He was just incoherent and acting out,” she said. “I called to find out what the procedure was to get him some help.”
Authorities did not immediately explain why an officer was dispatched, although Munoz was facing four counts of aggravated assault after he was accused last year of stabbing four people, including a 16-year-old boy in the face, following a fight.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Lancaster in protests that were sometimes violent, turning the city of about 60,000 people into the latest flashpoint in a summer of civil unrest across the United States over racism and police use of force. Police fired tear gas early on Monday to disperse the demonstrators.
At a news conference on Monday, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace called on the governor and state legislators to work together to come up with better protocols for responding to 911 calls involving people who may have mental health issues.
She said the shooting highlighted a broader problem of poverty affecting as many as half of the city’s residents – a predicament exacerbated by budget cuts and the coronavirus pandemic and disproportionately affecting minority communities.
“We must fund housing, social services, and education equitably and adequately in this city,” she said. “Lancaster, if we care so deeply about loving our neighbour then let’s do it.”
The officer was placed on administrative leave, the mayor’s office said in a statement, calling it “a heartbreaking day for our city”.
The Lancaster police department said it had arrested eight people early on Monday for arson and other crimes, with four of those detained from outside the county. Some protesters threw bricks at the police station and post office, the police said.
PENNSYLVANIA: there were multiple armed individuals in camouflage w/ American flags as identifiers offering tactical to support to Lancaster police
I’m not sure who they were, but they were not messing around. There presence often made rioters flee pic.twitter.com/8pFpmKt9UH
— ELIJAH RIOT (@ElijahSchaffer) September 14, 2020
The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office said it was investigating the shooting to determine whether there was a justified use of force. District Attorney Heather Adams acknowledged the protests in a news release later on Sunday and called for calm.
“We ask that acts of protest remain peaceful as violence and destruction of property will become headlines and serve no purpose for the safety and wellbeing of our citizens and neighborhoods,” Adams stated.
The protests are the latest in a long line of anti-police brutality demonstrations that began in the US in May, following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
Most protests have been peaceful, though some have been violent. Police, for their part, have also been accused of excessive force across the country.
As for the use of “chemical munitions” against protesters early Monday, the police department said in a statement that the crowd was given several warnings to disperse before the gas was deployed.
The crowd “failed to follow the instructions”, police stated, adding that items including glass bottles, gallon jugs filled with liquid, parts of plastic road barricades and more had been thrown at officers.
Al Jazeera and news agencies