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In St. Louis, Seattle and Louisville, Police Find Guns Around Protests

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 5 days ago Jennifer Levitz, Julie Wernau, Jim Carlton
a group of people walking down the street © Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Two shootings around protests in Louisville and Seattle over the weekend that were met by people in the crowds returning fire are showing a dynamic to the protests that has been caught on video and circulated on social media.

Armed people at large protests can make the events “ripe for an explosion of violence,” said Edward Davis, former commissioner of the Boston Police Department. 

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The killing of George Floyd while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police last month sparked ongoing nationwide demonstrations, with crowds protesting against police violence and racial injustice and calling for policy changes.

In Louisville, Ky., a man allegedly opened fire from the edge of a protest area in a park Saturday night, and a 27-year-old photographer was killed. Some bystanders in the park fired back, injuring the shooter, according to a police report.

Authorities have charged Steven Lopez with murder and first-degree wanton endangerment, and said he was struck in the leg and taken to a hospital with a non-life-threatening injury.

The number of people seeking permits to buy guns has been rising in cities across the U.S.

In Illinois, for example, from June 1 to June 17, there were more than 42,000 applications for cards to legally possess a firearm, compared with about 7,000 during the same time last year, a 501% increase, according to the Illinois State Police. That is nearly the same amount submitted in December through February combined.

In Minneapolis on Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S., the line for gun permits was three hours long throughout the day. The racially diverse group from across Hennepin County standing in line had a variety of reasons for deciding to obtain a permit. Some said they were afraid that plans for defunding the police department would mean they needed to protect themselves.

People bring guns illegally and legally to public events. The danger for police is that it is hard to tell the “good guys from the bad guys,” said Mr. Davis, the former Boston police commissioner.

“Nobody knows who’s a right-wing extremist, who’s a left-wing extremist, who might have pulled the trigger,” he said.

In the past month, at least seven people with ties to far-right extremist group boogaloo have been arrested for attempting or carrying out violence at recent protests, according to TRACE International. Often armed, these men and women have gathered on the fringes of gatherings and marches in states including Texas, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

A widely shared video from a June 1 protest showed nearly two dozen people standing along a bike trail near downtown Crown Point, Indiana, watching protesters march past them. Several openly held firearms, which is legal there.

A video of another incident that was circulated on Twitter had been viewed more than 14 million times by Monday afternoon. The video showed a white couple standing outside a house Sunday pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis as a group marched toward the mayor’s home to demand that she resign.

The couple told police that the protesters trespassed into their gated community, and said several were armed, according to an incident summary provided by the St. Louis Police Department. Videos showed some protesters urging others to ignore the couple and keep moving.

In Seattle, at the so-called Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, there was a shooting melee in the predawn hours Monday, which involved a white vehicle driving into a park where protesters had gathered and ending with a 16-year-old boy dead and a 14-year-old boy critically wounded, witnesses reported.

It was the second straight weekend in which someone was fatally shot in the area around the zone, which thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters have cordoned off from police and other city authorities for almost a month pending their demands including defunding the police.

Seattle police were still investigating the incident, which they said was reported at about 3 a.m. The white Jeep Cherokee ended up crashing into a road barricade that had been set up earlier by protesters. A police statement said the two victims were the presumed occupants of the vehicle. The victims, who Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said are Black, were rushed by ambulance and a private car to a nearby hospital, where the 16-year-old was pronounced dead.

Over the past two weeks, there have been at least four shootings in or near the zone.

“We absolutely believe in the cause,” Chief Best said, as protesters interchanged “Black Lives Matter.”

“(But) this is not safe for anyone. Multiple cases of murder, it’s not right. This is not an acceptable situation,” Chief Best said.

Write to Jennifer Levitz at jennifer.levitz@wsj.com, Julie Wernau at Julie.Wernau@wsj.com and Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com  

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