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Justice praises peaceful protests, warns against violence, vandalism

CHARLESTON — After a weekend of peaceful protests broke out across the state over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gov. Jim Justice praised those who chose nonviolent activism, but joined federal officials in warning against violence and vandalism.

Protests broke out nationwide since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was killed May 25 after being held down on the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for more than 8 minutes. Officer Derek Chauvin, was charged with murder and manslaughter for allegedly keeping his knee placed on Floyd’s neck, causing Floyd to say he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin didn’t remove his knee until Floyd was unconscious. Three other officers involved in the incident were fired.

Violent protests have broken out in Minneapolis and other major U.S. cities over the last several days, with attacks on police, vandalism of police cars and precincts, fires and looting. Police have responded with force of their own, donning riot gear and shields, using clubs and tear gas, and instituting curfews.

Protests were held in West Virginia in the major cities of Charleston, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Morgantown and in Martinsburg and in other communities. By all accounts, all protests were peaceful, with hundreds of people coming expressing their sorrow and their outrage at the actions of police in Minneapolis.

Instead of protesters being met with batons and tear gas, police provided protection and ensured that streets were not blocked.

Justice, speaking Monday during his daily coronavirus briefing at the Capitol, said he supported the peaceful protesters and shared their outrage over the death of Floyd.

“I can’t see how any West Virginian can think that is excusable and we don’t,” Justice said. “We need to make change in lots of ways as we go forward, and we do that as a nation. Sometimes that comes about quickly and sometimes it comes about slowly, but America is hurting.”

Justice thanked the protesters safely and non-violently practicing their 1st Amendment rights. Justice said West Virginia’s protests were an example to the rest of the country.

“We have had multiple protests…people who are out expressing their rights and everything, but how have you done it? You’ve done it in a peaceful manner,” Justice said. “You’ve done it in a way that absolutely recognizes you as saying this is a problem and recognizes the goodness you’re doing absolutely again. I could not possibly be more proud of you.”

Justice said he was part of a conference call between governors and President Donald Trump Monday morning. According to the Associated Press, Trump called some of the governor’s “weak” in their response to violent protests. Justice excused Trump’s remark as someone who is frustrated with the situation, but he did say that any violent protests in the state would be directly confronted by using the West Virginia National Guard.

“I would instantly call in the National Guard and I would call them in in a forceful way,” Justice said. “Let’s hope and pray we don’t have any type of situation like that. Regardless of anyone’s color of skin…I can’t fathom that would come from any West Virginians. But coming in from out-of-state fanning evil fires and everything can cause a lot of problems. I can promise you those people won’t be greeted in a very hospitable way.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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