DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. — Heavy clouds of tear gas wafted through the air and tear gas grenades littered the field Thursday in this Lancaster County town as Polish officials armed with floodlights gathered to try to disperse an unruly crowd of migrants who arrived with a busload of refugees.
Polish national police pursued the migrants, who were scurrying around the street with umbrellas, picnic blankets and picnic food and spilled onto the grass in some places.
Some waved the flags of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Others held white, tattered “I am a refugee” signs. Some identified themselves as Syrian refugees. Some were young men, some young women. They sang a few words of the national anthem while some cried.
Some were dancing. The mood was giddy, at times. People whispered, laughed and celebrated.
The Polish nationals who are part of the emergency team were assembled in the town of Hershey after a similar mass brawl involving Afghans and Syrians led local police to send out a warning on Facebook late Wednesday.
The Polish nationals fired six volleys of pepper-spray grenades about 4 p.m. One grenade set fire to a line of power poles, a spokeswoman for the Hershey station said.
Miles away in central Pennsylvania, there were unconfirmed reports of violence in Midland City.
There were six more volleys of pepper-spray grenades by 6 p.m. – four more grenades were fired along with about 30 other rounds.
Polish officials said they had sent a water cannon to the scene, and could use tear gas if needed. Polish police brought in additional troopers from York County.
Local police said they didn’t know what triggered the first skirmish.
Elizabeth Martz, 58, who lives across the street from the Hershey police station, said she was standing next to her home, and heard both Polish and Arabic voices and cheers at 4:16 p.m. “All of a sudden I heard a round go off, and then it was just a cacophony of screams,” she said. “It’s mainly Kurds shouting.”
The dispatchers notified the local police, as well as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. About 6 p.m., one of the Poles informed her that they had used water cannons and burning gas.
“They were all over the place,” she said. “It was just a thing that didn’t make any sense at all. The scene was insane.”
Steve Martin, a spokesman for the Polish Consulate General in New York, said that seven people were detained and that federal law enforcement officials would handle the matter.
Martin said his officials got a message from emergency dispatchers about 8 p.m. on Wednesday that the Polish National Police in Hershey were going to be working with local authorities to respond to an altercation between Afghans and Syrians.
Martin said that by 10 p.m. last night, he hadn’t heard about further clashes, but a few hundred people were still on the scene. He noted that there were “several hundred people on both sides, yelling, screaming, throwing things, melting down.”
Last week, York County officials announced on Facebook that police were investigating a “very serious disturbance” involving at least two large groups of people, and they warned that local police “will respond and use any necessary force to restore order.”
Nick Pennisi, a spokesman for the county district attorney’s office, said officials were aware of reports of incidents involving migrants in Midland City but couldn’t confirm whether they were related to the Lancaster County police in Hershey.
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