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Mayors call for calm at Region protests
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Mayors call for calm at Region protests

From the Collection: The Region responds to the death of George Floyd series
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HOBART — Tensions flared as crowds protesting the death of George Floyd clashed with police briefly this weekend outside the Southlake Mall and in Hammond north of the Borman Expressway.

And on Monday, protests continued in Crown Point.

There, Mayor David Uran, an observer-turned-marcher, took it upon himself to lead about 30 people in a march Monday afternoon from the town square to the Lake County government center. 

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"We're not here to be an obstacle. We're here to be part of the solution," Uran told protesters Monday. 

The three largely peaceful protests in the Region could have ended much worse, local officials said.

Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor, a former police chief, and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who is running for Congress in Tuesday's election, both helped calm the crowds in person Saturday and Sunday.

Snedecor says he absolutely won't take all the credit, noting everyone at the Southlake Mall protest in Hobart played a role in keeping the calm: law enforcement, protesters, church leaders and public officials included.

Besides a few busted-out windows, brief bursts of violence, verbal confrontations, and 10 arrests, protesters at the mall largely kept the peace on Sunday, he said. 

At one point, one young woman stood between the protesters and officers guarded by shields and reminded the protesters not to take out their anger on the individual officers, Snedecor said. 

"She said 'You know (the police are) here just doing their job, don't blame them,'" Snedecor said. 

Snedecor, who served as Hobart's police chief for 4 1/2 years before becoming mayor and nearly 23 years as a cop before that, said he appreciates all the police agencies that assisted Sunday and the protesters that worked with him to keep the peace.  

"There was a lot of unity," Snedecor said.

Snedecor said George Floyd's death at the hands of a white officer in Minneapolis was an obvious injustice, and protesters walking the streets with a genuine cause deserve to be heard. 

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"I respect those who want to have their voices heard, because it was an injustice what happened in Minneapolis. But at the same time, I understand there are groups who will use the protest as an opportunity to engage in criminal activity and the destruction of property," he said. 

He said the mall-area protest was set to last from 2-4 p.m., but officers allowed the crowd to remain on U.S. 30 until much later. 

McDermott and Snedecor's calming actions came on the eve of President Donald Trump largely placing blame on the nation's governors for protests that turned violent, calling them "weak" and telling them to "dominate" on site.

"They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate,” Trump said.

McDermott scoffed at Trump's remarks, saying McDermott's call for peace during a protest Saturday at 171st and Calumet Avenue would have backfired if he came at protesters with aggression or a dominating attitude. The majority of Saturday's protest in the city streets of Hammond was peaceful, up until he heard the crowd was aiming to block traffic on the Borman Expressway. 

UPDATE: Council member resigning after suggesting harm to protesters

"Not to make me sound like a hero or anything, but when I got there, the cops were digging in, the protesters were staring and screaming. I was just super, super calm and as I was getting called everything under the sun, I just absorbed everything that was said to me," McDermott said. "I had to be chill. I told them, 'If you turn around (away from the expressway), we won't mess with you.'" 

McDermott said a black pastor who wore a face mask helped him diffuse the situation. 

"It was scary. It was the closest I've seen to a riot," McDermott said. 

Over the weekend, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez thanked McDermott for his help. 

“The mayor played a big role in calming the crowd,” the sheriff said. “He stepped out and talked to them — told them they could continue protesting if they remained peaceful and stayed off the interstate. Things really calmed down after that.”

Region schools close, cancel activities amid protest concerns

It was a different story in Calumet City on Sunday, where vandals smashed storefronts and violently clashed with police, forcing businesses to close down. 

"What I saw in Hammond was a protest mourning the loss of George Floyd. What I was Sunday in Cal City was anarchy," McDermott said. 

McDermott said the city of Hammond's 9 p.m. curfew has been extended and will last until 5 a.m. Tuesday. Blockades preventing eastbound traffic from Illinois from entering the city will remain in place amid fears that violent protests, looting and arson in nearby Calumet City may bleed over into Hammond. 

Gallery: National unrest hits Region

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North Lake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from UIS. Contact her at lauren.cross@nwi.com or 219-933-3206.

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