Salem is bracing for a potential spillover of Lawrence, Mass., protests

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SALEM, NH – Salem Police are taking steps to prepare for a possible spillover of protesters and rioters as an evening of peaceful protests conclude Friday in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Deputy Police Chief Joel Dolan said the department has been monitoring activity in neighboring communities, particularly in Massachusetts, and received information from other law enforcement sources leading them to believe that it was possible rioting could move its way north into parts of Salem.

In order to prepare for such an occurrence, the department has arranged for mutual aid from other local and state agencies, Dolan said, but did not wish to get into specifics.

“We took precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our residents and their property and businesses,” Dolan said.

He said some local business owners have already taken steps to secure their buildings, including boarding up windows.

Rumors have spread on social media, pointing out early closures of the Rockingham Mall and other businesses, and a fleet of State Police vehicles and “military” vehicles seen at certain parts in town.

Dolan did not wish to discuss the tactics the department is taking to keep the community safe, saying folks looking to riot could try to use that information to their advantage.

As of 9 p.m., everything was still quiet, Dolan said. There’s still a lot they can’t confirm; it’s possible nothing happens, and if it does, it’s unclear who would be behind it.

“We can’t link it to any one group or movement,” Dolan said.

Salem resident and governor’s advisor DJ Bettencourt tried to calm the community with a message on the Salem NH Residents Facebook page, after he said he was “bombarded” with messages and phone calls about protests and rallies expected to take place in Lawrence over the weekend.

“New Hampshire authorities carefully and constantly monitor activity about rallies taking place and those who would attempt to turn peaceful rallies into something destructive. This includes events taking place in New Hampshire or out of state that could impact our state. In this case, there are some preventative measures being taken as a precaution against any rowdiness that would attempt to creep its way into Salem. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive,” Bettencourt said.

He said Gov. Chris Sununu has made New Hampshire State Police and the National Guard available to local communities.

“There is no reason to panic or overreact. We hope that all marches or protests will remain peaceful. However, we are prepared for any situation that may arise,” Bettencourt said.

Dolan said he wants residents to trust the police are doing everything they can to keep the situation as safe as possible.

“I would just ask everybody to be aware of their surroundings and aware of their safety and be assured that we are taking all measures possible to ensure their safety,” he said.

Peaceful protests and riots have spread across the nation following the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of four police officers on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, causing nationwide outrage.

The watershed moment has spurred hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, the killings of unarmed black people, and systemic racism at large, invoking not only Floyd’s name but those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others who were recently killed.

Violence and disorderly conduct has sometimes followed peaceful protests, though in New Hampshire that has been largely contained so far.

After a peaceful vigil of 700 people in Manchester concluded without incident Tuesday night, a group of about 50 people split off and made their way to South Willow Street where several hundred people congregated – protesters and curiosity-seekers, according to Chief Carlo Capano. There a confrontation with police erupted at the intersection of South Willow and Weston streets. Police arrested 10 adults and three juveniles that night and two more were arrested on June 4 and 5 on related warrants. A third suspect is still wanted.

No injuries were reported and police noted there was no significant property damage except for a few minor dumpster fires quickly extinguished.