Arrest in Lincoln will not deter Black Lives Matter protester

Dominique Liu-Sang faces police line. (Photos: Bill Kelly/NET News)
Dominique Liu-Sang in custody, May 31.
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June 23, 2020 - 8:47pm

Dominique Liu-Sang “got tired of seeing violence.” She’d watched the dozens of cities in turmoil in the protests against how America’s police treated African-Americans.  

“I got tired of seeing people get hurt.” 


Protesters face off with police on May 31


In front of Lincoln's statue, Dominique Liu-Sang addresses protesters. (Photos/Bill Kelly NET News)

On May 31 Liu-Sang joined thousands supporting the Black Live Matters movement at the state capitol. Teenagers, senior citizens, and parents with children made up the diverse crowd. There was no show of force by police.

She also knew she would continue the protest after the authorized rally had ended, bringing her face to face with police officers and sheriff deputies ready to clear the Lincoln streets when the Mayor’s curfew began.

“So, I had the goal in mind that day to make some sort of change whether it be big or small.”

An agriculture economics student with an interest in culinary arts, Liu-Sang is no new-comer to civil rights advocacy. Growing up, her family were the only black residents of Friend, Nebraska.

The rally on that Sunday afternoon seemed to take the edge off the previous night when demonstrations in Omaha and Lincoln devolved into violence and vandalism. 

As that rally ended, at a time agreed to by organizers and the city of Lincoln, Liu-Seng joined the smaller, loosely organized group walking towards the Lincoln-Lancaster Hall of Justice. The city had not issued a permit for this march.

The building and surrounding businesses bore the scars of two nights of vandalism.

A three hour-long standoff began, with Dominique Liu-Sang front and center.

Liu-Seng talked with NET News about her impressions of that night.

(Dominique Liu-Sang) We remained peaceful to show that, you know, it's the police who start the riots because they start to harm peaceful protesters.

(Bill Kelly) As you're taking that walk from the Capitol gathering to the courthouse. Did you expect that the evening would end up with some kind of confrontation or likely arrests?

(DLS) I knew that there was a curfew in place. And we didn't know what the consequences the curfew was. 

(BK) Did you expect to be the person at the center of attention in that demonstration?

(DLS) No. Yes, but no. I knew that I would be the center of attention in the background working to kind of figure out what I can do to help alleviate the harm that would come our way. As far as the center of attention, and like just being the floor person and being called an organizer, I did not expect that.

Liu-Seng’s hearty voice dominated the evening, alternating condemnation of police violence with reminders to the crowd that the goal was to have a peaceful gathering. 

The first line of officers dressed in riot gear and blockaded the courthouse steps. Stone-faced and armed with nightsticks, they bore the brunt of face to face anger brought by some in the crowd. The demonstrators were especially agitated by a second row of officers staggered along the top tier of steps. The brandished crowd control weapons holding rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas. 





Hall of Justice protest on May 31. (Photos: Bill Kelly/NET News)

Liu-Seng took it on herself to negotiate a minor truce with one of the police commanders on the scene. The protesters had no firearms. Have the second line retreat into the building until the curfew deadline to soften the confrontation. 

(DLS) They're like, we're out here in our, in our clothing with no weapons. Make it easier for us not to be so scared of them and for us to trust that we can stand here and not have to worry about getting shot. I asked if they could take their troops with guns back. And he said in exchange, stay off of the steps and do no touch his officers and don’t throw anything up there. As long as you guys take those officers with those big guns away.

And they did. So that was the beginning of hope for peaceful protesting.

(BK) Some people looked at that crowd and felt like there might be some people in that group who didn't share the same concerns that you have for social justice and police conduct. The assumption was they were there to provoke more than advance the cause. Did you have any of that sense? 

(DLS) There were some people when they had arrived were very angry because they saw that the police had the big gear and the big guns. (The demonstrators) were more apt to voice our anger and concern, but they weren't being violent. They weren't throwing anything. They were just peacefully protesting.

(DLS) I always try to get both sides of the story to make a decision. I talked to the protesters, and they were very scared of what was going on we're out here and Just start clothes, no weapons, we're just using our First Amendment right to peacefully protest. Like, I understand your concern, because it's very scary to stay here and just a few feet in front of you, someone with a weapon who can take out an entire crowd.

(BK) In a circumstance like that, they're such heightened emotions. There was a lot of kind of in your face and sometimes profane reactions towards the police by a few of the demonstrators.  

(DLS) No. We might be honest. Most of the language used toward the officers were used towards police brutality in general, because police brutality is an issue in America. We're speaking up and saying, ‘you have officers doing this.’ We're not provoking them, we're informing them and educating them about the people that they have around them. You know, your brothers in blue! Take accountability for this!

The Lancaster County Sheriff’s department has responsibility for security at the courthouse. Lincoln Police, the Nebraska State Patrol, and military police from the Nebraska National Guard were all there to support.  Sheriff Terry Wager said law enforcement considered the evening demonstration to be illegal from the start. The pending curfew violations were a second reason to step in. He said he was not going to allow a repeat of the previous night. Arrests would be made before things got out of hand.

(BK) As the curfew deadline is approaching, were you still fully expecting to get arrested? (DLS) Yeah. And that's, that's what I asked the officer, I was like, well, you're infringing on our first amendment rights, which are federal, and it comes before any law. And he said that that's an issue for us to take up in court.

(BK) The curfew deadline itself was at eight and then there are another 40 minutes or so that that passes (while the police wait to move in). How does that fee while you're waiting for that to happen?

(DLS) I was very tense. Because in my head, I knew that whatever the police said, it would affect every single protester there. There were children. There was a 10-year-old girl there. There were 15-year-olds. There were older people. In my head, I was stressed out (because) I don't know what the police are going to do when they arrest. They said they'll be peaceful. Then they told me that they were going to tear gas and shoot people with rubber bullets. I started to fear for the safety of everyone.

That's what I came up with 'if you are peaceful protesters with me put their hands up' to show that we're being peaceful. My stress was somewhat alleviated when I spoke to the officers that it would be a peaceful arrest if we were on our knees with our hands up.

The curfew deadline came and went. The officers with crowd control weapons returned to the front steps. The gas masks came out. 





Scenes from the conclusion of the May 31 Hall of Justice protest. (Photos: Bill Kelly/NET News)

 

After multiple disperse orders from a sheriff’s captain on a megaphone, the line of police pushed the crowd into the street and the arrests began. Some complied. Some fought back. The tear gas was let loose a few minutes later. Dominique became one of the first led away in zip-tie restraints and taken to jail.

(DLS) After that, I felt very disappointed.  We wanted to show that even if we were arrested peacefully, they didn't have to use weapons against us they can do their job without hurting someone. 

(BK) There are representatives of law enforcement and I'm sure there are people with a different point of view, who would say you could have just walked away ahead of the curfew order and picked up the protest the next day and avoided the whole thing.

(DLS) And so that I say, the very next day, the same exact actions were taken. And the goal is achieved.

The next night there was no ugly face-off. Police kept the riot gear inside. Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and police officers mingled among the protesters and listened to their concerns. 

Liu-Seng was released from jail as the Monday night protest was unfolding, mostly in harmony. That morning she had pleaded not guilty in Lancaster County Court to the charge of violating the curfew.

(DLS) We are showing that not everyone is a rioter that we are peaceful protesters, and we're still here exercising our constitutional… constitutional… first amendment right.

(BK) You feel like you made the point the previous night by getting arrested and going through the tear gas and everything else in a way that caused the city to change its behavior the next day. 

(DLs) Yeah! They couldn't do the same thing they did to us the day before.

Liu-Seng is working with a fledgling group challenging Lincoln and Nebraska to reform police procedures, the centerpiece of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

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