While Mark and Patricia McCloskey are still facing felony charges in St. Louis for displaying firearms as hundreds of protesters marched through their private neighborhood earlier this summer, a man who pulled his gun on protesters in Gainesville, Florida earlier this summer has seen charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon dropped by prosecutors.
64-year old William John Connelly was originally charged with six counts of third-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but the local prosecutor dropped the case earlier this month, telling police that there simply wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with the criminal charges.
According to the arrest report, roughly 200 people were marching south on Main Street toward Southeast Depot Avenue, as part of a protest against the death of George Floyd — who died while detained by Minneapolis police in May. The group had splintered from the nearly 1,000 others who marched near Bo Diddley Plaza.
Officers wrote that traffic on the street either moved away from the oncoming crowd, or pulled to the side. At around 3:30 p.m., police said the crowd began shouting and running away from a gray SUV driving north on Main Street.
As the car proceeded to maneuver through the crowd, the report states, objects were thrown at the silver Kia.
Officers stopped Connelly on Southeast Fourth Avenue and he was arrested.
Some of the protesters claimed that Connelly was trying to run them over, while Connelly and his son, who was in the Kia with his dad, say they were simply trying to get away from the crowd that had surrounded them. According to witnesses, when the mob refused to move, Connelly displayed his handgun and warned the protesters to back off or he’d shoot.
State’s Attorney Bill Cervone said an investigation led him to the conclusion that Connelly may not have been the initial aggressor in the incident, but was instead acting in self-defense.
Cervone told The Sun that video evidence circulated on social media following the initial arrest convinced him that Connelly and his son were not trying to hit protesters, and the two acted in defense of an “aggressive” crowd. He pointed to the 64-year-old’s shattered windshield, which he said likely resulted from a thrown bottle.
“That’s where ‘stand your ground’ comes into play,” he said. “He is entitled to take whatever reasonable action is needed to protect himself from what, in my mind, is an angry crowd confronting him.”
As you might expect, the anti-police protesters in Gainesville are furious that Connelly is no longer facing multiple felonies.
Joshua White, listed as one of the victims in the arrest report, said the event was overwhelmingly peaceful, and the protesters in the area weren’t provoking drivers in trafficto get a reaction.
“We didn’t have weapons, for example, or were chasing the car,” he said. “It seems like (the dropped charges) are being cushioned and very much fostered toward the person who was targeting people who were peacefully protesting.”
Makayla Edwards of Lake City, also listed in the police report, said she was appalled to hear of the decision to drop the charges, and is trying to get legal help.
“I am disgusted,” she wrote in a text. “The lack of accountability … the flagrant lies listed in the state’s report. Sickening.”
She said cases like Connelly’s are another example of white privilege within the United States, and why she continues to march.
March all you want, but I’d keep to the sidewalks in the future. You absolutely have a First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, but you don’t have the right to impede others or threaten them. At that point the Second Amendment comes into play, and you shouldn’t be shocked or surprised when people choose to protect themselves from mob violence. Thankfully in this case no one was injured on either side, and hopefully from here on out any protests in Gainesville won’t involve protesters playing chicken with traffic.