It was a somber, rainy afternoon in downtown Raleigh Friday as work crews reboarded the windows of dozens of downtown businesses in preparation for protests this weekend.

Protesters are expected to gather downtown starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a rally organized by a coalition of social justice organizations including Raleigh Demands Justice, Emancipate NC, Save our Sons, and PACT. They plan to keep things peaceful, organizer, and Emancipate NC executive director Dawn Blagrove said. 

“We intend, as we always do, to have a peaceful rally,” Blagrove said.

Earlier this month, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown admitted that the department used expired tear gas on protesters in May. The report claims the deployment of gas was only unnecessary in one instance: when police claimed to be clearing an intersection for an ambulance call that had already been canceled.  Protesters have maintained the violent rioting that erupted downtown that night was instigated by the police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to attempt to break up the crowds. 

“If any of the protests get violent, it’s by the police,” said activist and organizer Zainab Baloch. “The fact that with protests they decide to come out with riot gear or tear gas while ReOpenNC gets to come outs with their guns trotting out downtown… it’s really clear when the police stand and that is against Black and brown lives.” 

Earlier this week, forty businesses in downtown Durham were damaged after a group of mostly white protesters staged a demonstration calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in a late-night raid in Louisville, Kentucky. Earlier this week, news broke that Taylor’s killers would not be indicted in her death, fueling ongoing national grief for Black lives destroyed at the hands of police. 

The Raleigh Police Department did not return the INDY‘s request for comment on its preparation for Saturday’s rally or if they intend to equip officers with tear gas this time. 

Sections of Fayetteville, Morgan, Hargett, Salisbury, and Martin Streets will be closed from 7 a.m. Saturday through Monday morning, the city announced Friday afternoon. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told the INDY she hasn’t decided whether to implement a curfew this weekend but expects to make a decision by early Saturday morning. 

“We’re still evaluating things. I want to take a look at what’s happening across the country before making a final decision,” Baldwin says.

Baldwin expects the police response will be “similar to what it was in August.” Staff will be conducted a street sweep to make sure there are no bricks or other “potential projectiles,” left on the street, she said, and roadblocks are also planned.

“We are going to be prepared and we all understand the stuff that has happened, with George Floyd and then this week… it’s heartwrenching,” Baldwin said. “Things have to change and we get that but I’m just hoping that people can do that without violence.” 

Downtown Thursday, the mostly deserted main strip was even grimmer than usual as businesses boarded their windows. It’s the third time Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality owner Zack Medford says they’ve had to reboard one of their three downtown businesses. 

“I fully support the peaceful protests,” Medford said. “The bullshit that happened in Louisville is the biggest problem and no one in leadership seems to be learning any lessons from this stuff.” 

His club, Coglin’s, has been shuttered by Governor Roy Cooper’s mandate for months and now has a homeless encampment in the entryway, Medford says. A Black Lives Matter mural painted on the plywood boards outside of Isaac Hunter’s Tavern was defaced with Jeffrey Epstein graffiti. 

“I wonder, what is the city of Raleigh doing?” Medford said. “Why is our main street… why has it come to this?” 

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin did not immediately return the INDY’s request for comment Friday.

Blagrove says its typical for the city to prioritize protecting private property over the constitutional rights of citizens to peacefully protest,  “bringing out law enforcement in an attempt to, instead of de-escalating a peaceful situation, escalate a peaceful situation.” 

In response to property damage earlier this week, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel blamed white anarchists on “co-opting,” the movement for racial justice. Blagrove doesn’t buy that narrative, though. 

“There is no right way to protest,” Blagrove said. “You do not get to, as an entity, as a state, you do not get to condone state-sanctioned violence, and with the very same tongue denounce violence in response to that state-sanctioned violence. You don’t get to do that.”

“Any damage that happens in the street is a result of a failure of city actors, state actors, and federal actors to respect Black lives and for their failure to create equity in systems,” she continued. “When that damage happens, don’t look to the people in the street. Look to the people that have the power to keep them out of the street, because those are the people you should be angry with.” 

Follow Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.