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200 Riot After Police Shoot Black : 30 Arrested, 1 Hurt as Protest in N.J. City Turns Violent

August 29, 1989|From Associated Press

VINELAND, N.J. — About 200 people smashed windows, looted stores and battled in the streets early today after a protest over the shooting death of a black man by police.

More than 30 people were arrested and at least one person was hospitalized, police said.

Around 100 state and local police officers in riot gear battled to regain control of the streets after about 40 buildings were damaged along a one-mile stretch of a downtown street.

Order was restored about 4 a.m., police said. The trouble began around 11 p.m. Monday.

"Things are out of hand," Vineland Police Lt. Ed Zatzariny said earlier. "They're going crazy to retaliate for the (police) shooting."

'We Want Justice'

The disturbance was preceded by a march on the police station by about 100 demonstrators who chanted "We want justice."

Zatzariny said that crowd dispersed, but a few hours later separate groups began forming in various parts of the city and converged on Landis Avenue, the main drag of the mostly white downtown section of Vineland, a city of 54,000 about 35 miles south of Philadelphia.

The group, estimated by Zatzariny at 200, began throwing rocks and bottles at cars and storefront windows.

"There was extensive damage to stores," the lieutenant said. "Windows were knocked out of a few police cars and a lot of civilian cars were smashed up pretty good."

Gary Vasell, a manager of a 7-Eleven convenience store on Landis Avenue, said he barely escaped injury.

"I was looking through the window and all of a sudden bricks came flying through," Vasell said. "I started to run out the door and then more bricks came flying through so I just backed up and called the cops. I thought maybe somebody was going to start firing shots."

Several residents in the area scuffled with vandals and some members of the groups fought with each other, Zatzariny said.

Samuel Williams, 26, was killed Sunday by a white police officer, Paul Letizia, after Williams reportedly threatened Letizia with a steel rod, Police Chief Joseph P. Cassisi said.

Officers spotted Williams on Sunday after receiving an anonymous call about a man on a bicycle carrying drugs, Cassisi said. Williams had pending arrest warrants on drug and weapon charges.

Williams allegedly threw two rocks at Letizia when the officer told him that he was under arrest, Cassisi said. He then picked up the rod and started toward the officer, swinging, Cassisi said.

"He threatened to kill the officer," Cassisi said. "The officer was in fear of his life."

Samuel L. Clark, president of the Cumberland County chapter of the NAACP, said Monday's march was prompted by a report in the Daily Journal of Vineland that quoted Cassisi as saying, "It was a justifiable shooting."

"When the newspaper hit the street, all hell broke loose," Clark said. "We're trying to defuse a very volatile situation."

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