Hundreds of armed counter-protesters confront Black Lives Matter rally in Ohio
Photo: Amy Harris / Rex / Shutterstock
A small and peaceful demonstration in an Ohio city to support the Black Lives Matter movement over the weekend was overwhelmed when hundreds of counter-demonstrators, some armed with rifles or baseball bats, harassed the group.
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Alicia Gee, a 36-year-old substitute school teacher, expected about 50 people to take part in a demonstration - the first protest she'd ever organized, she told the Cincinnati Enquirer - but almost twice as many came out.
The rally was designed to show solidarity with the black minority in Bethel, a predominantly white city of around 2,800 people 30 miles east of Cincinnati, she added.
However, the small group of demonstrators was overwhelmed when around 700 counter-demonstrators showed up to demonstrate their opposition to rallies and demonstrations against racism and police brutality that had swept across the nation since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in May.
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Gee's meeting demonstrated the renewed reach of the Black Lives Matter movement for small, mostly white cities in the Midwest, where protests have not taken place in years. This has been fueled by recent, high profile examples of black people being murdered by white policemen or armed people acting as vigilantes.
Some small towns where rallies were held no longer saw such events after the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Gee referred to violent tragedies such as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's alleged murder of Floyd, the death of Breonna Taylor by the Louisville police, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two armed white men in Georgia.
She said in a Facebook post before the rally that this brutality "made it perfectly clear to me that it was time for my comfort to fall by the wayside. It was time for me to use my body, voice and privilege
In a Facebook post, she said that this brutality "made it perfectly clear to me that it is time for my comfort to fall by the wayside, time for me to use my body, voice, and privilege to." Showing my city that it is not 'okay', that not only 'city people' have the right to gather peacefully, and that Black Lives Matter even when there are few in our city. "
However, the demonstration was engulfed by a combination of armed rights defenders, "back the blue" police groups, and about 250 people on motorcycles, which forced the group to move two blocks from its original location, causing turmoil.
Videos of a two-hour clash, some of which were posted on Twitter and Facebook, show counter-protesters shouting racist insults and “all life is important” and addressing protesters.
"They grabbed me and grabbed my mother, and they just didn't seem to respect the law," said Andrea Dennis, a Bethel resident, whose Facebook live from the demonstration shows how a man shows someone else's sign Demonstrators snatched Enquirers from their hands.
The Bethel police said they are investigating 10 "incidents" as of Sunday afternoon.
In another Facebook live video, Heather Bratton, also from Bethel, claims, "This is my hometown too!" to a white woman who repeatedly uses the N-word.
A few counter-demonstrators "came over and tore signs from our hands, tore hats and masks from our faces, tore things out of our pockets," protester Abbi Remers wrote on Facebook along with a photo of the bloody man's cheek, a bloody one Mask and a video of men who said "This is not Seattle!" and "This is a republican state!"
Another widespread video shows a man in a Confederate-flag bandana who slapped a demonstrator in the back of the head in front of a non-arrest cop. The video was condemned by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
"The inaction of these officials is shameful," Brown tweeted. "That's why we need the law on police justice - to hold the police accountable," he added, referring to the legislation that House Democrats had introduced earlier this month.
A # BlackLivesMatter protester in #Bethel #Ohio was hit DIRECTLY BEFORE A COP and the officer did nothing to protect and serve the protesters.
6:56 AM - June 15, 2020Dayton, OH
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574 people are talking about it
At a meeting of the virtual village council on Tuesday, Bethel police chief Steve Teague said the officer present had not witnessed the incident because his attention was drawn to the side. All six Bethel officers were present on Sunday, Teague said, as well as some county MPs.
On Wednesday, the Bethel police issued an arrest warrant for assault and cited the video as evidence.
Due to tensions and intimidation on Sunday, Gee said in a live video posted on Facebook on Monday that she was not planning on planning another demonstration. "I want us to heal, I want our community to heal, I want peace and love to be spread," she said. "And I'm worried that what we saw yesterday will result in more counter-protesters - I'm worried that it will happen again."
On Monday evening, Bethel Mayor Jay Noble imposed a curfew at 9:00 p.m., referring to “the danger of ongoing and escalating violence”.
Gee urged the followers "not to come to Bethel now" in a frightening echo of so-called "sunset cities" - mostly white cities where black people are displaced, excluded from buying property, and earlier after dark due to the threat of violence were banned in the 20th century.
"It's not time for any kind of Black Lives Matter supporter to be in Bethel now," said Gee. "It's not safe."
"Our goal was to show our community that it was important," she said. "That people in our community love it, and that can't happen at the moment."
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