A candlelight vigil for Kevin Peterson Jr. drew scores of somber attendees Friday night to the former bank outside Vancouver where he was killed by police. The event also drew dozens of flag-waving counterprotesters and armed agitators.
A crowd of nearly 1,000 people filled the bank parking lot holding candles and stayed facing the area where Peterson died after multiple deputies with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office shot at him Thursday night.
Early Friday night, many approached the lot’s back fence to lay flowers, candles and signs with parting words. Members of Peterson’s family attended while organizers repelled media attention. Speakers took turns offering words of hope and venting exhaustion at another Black man shot dead by police.
“I appreciate everybody being here to support this mom, and support this dad, and support this daughter and his cousins and brothers, but don’t do it because of ‘RIP,’” one speaker said. “When I drive down the street and I see a police officer, I’ve got to sit straight up and instantly I go into fight-or-flight. It shouldn’t be like that.”
According to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, a regional drug task force contacted Peterson during a drug investigation. A foot chase led them from a nearby Quality Inn to the former bank branch parking lot.
However, details of the shooting remain unclear – even to Peterson’s family. Hours after the shooting, Sheriff Chuck Atkins told reporters that Peterson “reportedly fired his weapon at deputies.” A team of investigators released a separate account that did not include that detail.
Investigators said the 21-year-old showed a weapon and officers “backed off” as Peterson fled.
“A short time later, the subject encountered three Clark County Deputies who all discharged their pistols. During the crime scene investigation, a Glock model 23, 40 caliber pistol was found near the deceased by independent crime scene investigators,” the investigators said in a statement Friday.
When asked by OPB about the discrepancy, Battle Ground Chief of Police Mike Fort, who is leading the independent investigation, said investigators are “working on clarifying that.”
“I want to make sure that all public information goes to the family first before sent out publicly,” he said in an email. “I intend to send out a clarification as soon as possible.”
Peterson’s father and stepmother have expressed frustration about being left in the dark. They said it took almost 12 hours – until 5:30 a.m. – before they could see Peterson’s body to identify him.
“They wouldn’t even tell us a name,” Kim Peterson said. “We’re just standing out here and you won’t even let his dad walk back there to make sure? And they’re like ‘No, it’s a crime scene.’”
At least 30-40 person turnout in Hazel Dell to counter tonight’s vigil. pic.twitter.com/XaIwnAmq42— Troy Brynelson (@TroyWB) October 31, 2020
At the vigil Friday night, a chaotic scene played out on the perimeter, along the four-lane thoroughfare of Northeast Highway 99. A much smaller gathering across the road waved American flags, Gadsden flags, Trump flags and Thin Blue Line flags.
Repeatedly, lifted trucks roared their engines past the vigil and near antifascist activists near the street. At times, men shouted at black-clad activists to “get the fuck out” as they drove past. Both sides prominently displayed rifles throughout the evening.
“I was inside the vigil, so I did not come across the white supremacists,” said one man, who declined to give his name. “Inside, it was a wonderful celebration of a young man who was murdered by the police.”
“I have much appreciation for the people who were out defending and letting us have the somber vigil in the parking lot,” the man added.
Eventually, antifascist activists created a blockade with parked cars on either side of the parking lot. At one point, Chandler Pappas, an affiliate of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer who was present at a deadly shooting in downtown Portland in August, marched near the vigil carrying a rifle while antifascist activists urged crowds to stay calm. Video reviewed by OPB shows Pappas chambered a round in the rifle he carried as counterdemonstrators surrounded him.
A group of armed right wing counter protestors march through the vigil pic.twitter.com/H2Vjomn3i6— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) October 31, 2020
Tensions stayed high throughout the evening. One protestor from Portland, who identified himself as AJ, said his frustration with police shootings drove him to attend the vigil.
“I’m feeling pissed off, really. That’s why I’m out here,” he said, while lighting candles and arranging them on a car hood in Kevin Peterson Jr.'s initials. “I’m tired of people getting hurt by the police.”
The vigil lasted more than two hours before groups of people started departing. A bloc of people moved to downtown Vancouver to march a circuit involving Esther Short Park and the Clark County Courthouse. Nearby, a team of federal officers stood guard around an Internal Revenue Service building.
It’s unclear entirely what actions police took Friday night. At least two shots were fired near antifascist demonstrators and the Vancouver Police Department made at least one arrest.
Videos of the evening also show some protestors broke windows in downtown Vancouver at the courthouse and nearby businesses. Some armed men stood in front of other businesses, claiming to be private security.
Representatives for both the police department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office did not return phone calls Saturday morning.