By: Jeremy D. WellsCarter County Times
Black Lives Matter rally organizer Denorver “Dee” Garrett was not in Grayson this past Sunday. Garrett had been arrested in Louisville late Saturday night on a number of charges, including reckless driving, riot – first degree, disorderly conduct second degree, failure to maintain insurance first offense, license to be in possession, and failure to notify address change to department of transportation.
Despite Garrett’s absence, though, Grayson and Carter County BLM supporters, and activists from surrounding areas who support the Grayson BLM movement, showed up to march. First, though, they had a cook-out and invited counter-protesters to eat with them and discuss their worries and concerns. It was a move back to the positive dialogue and peaceful demonstrations that marked Garrett’s early demonstrations.
Those early demonstrations, beginning with a June 7 rally, drew the support of Garrett’s teachers, coaches, and administrative staff at Kentucky Christian University as well as other Grayson residents and clergy. The tone changed though at the July 26 rally, when armed counter-protesters showed up to protect the town after perceived threats from Garrett in a since-deleted Facebook video. In related videos circulating on YouTube Garrett, who later apologized for losing his temper, stated that he and his family had been threatened and that racial slurs had been yelled at him as he stood on the corner during previous Sundays. Garrett addressed specific threats from bikers in those videos, stating that the bikers lived by a “street code” and that he understood that code. He said if they wanted to escalate the situation he could get gang members and others who also lived by a “street code” to come to Grayson as well. Although in those YouTube videos Garrett followed up those perceived threats by saying he didn’t want that, and that Grayson didn’t want that, many worried that the tone of the video didn’t reflect the content of the words.
“Don’t try to be bullies now,” Garrett said in one of the videos. “Don’t be mad. Don’t get mad. Y’all trying to push, when people start pushing back don’t get mad. Y’all coming up here trying to fight. Don’t get mad at somebody that swing… y’all don’t get mad at somebody (that) shoots at y’all. That’s why I’m on here man. Because I don’t want it to go that route. I didn’t put this protest together for that to happen, but I’m letting y’all know. This protest can go two ways now… We can have it peacefully, you know what I’m saying? We come in, share our message, y’all listen to our speakers and all this, and that’s what I want. I want it to be peaceful.”
But, he added later in the video, “I want nobody acting crazy… but it is going to be people on both sides, I know, people (are) going to have their guns out here. Okay. Bring your guns, this and that. But I’m letting y’all know, they (don’t) just make guns for white people. For me, you’re not the only ones that can exercise your second amendment (rights).”
Those words, despite Garrett’s assertion that he didn’t want violence, were taken by many as potential threats, and Garrett’s claims that he didn’t want violence, and his later apology, were taken as too little, too late. The claim that it could go “two ways” was interpreted by some as a thinly veiled threat as well. As a result the July 26 rally drew an enormous crowd of armed individuals who stated they were there to protect the town from an expected influx of armed NFAC protesters and possible gang members. When none of the expected NFAC members, gang members, or New Black Panther Party members showed, many in the crowd there to protect the town left, leaving behind only the most vocal counter-protesters. Many of those people, Grayson locals said, were not from the community.
The march the following weekend, of August 2, drew a smaller crowd of counter-protesters. Despite being a smaller crowd, and an overall more subdued gathering, that rally did erupt in violence briefly when William Jarrell, of Ashland, assaulted protester Darius Clay, knocking over a small child in the process. Grayson police sought assistance in identifying Jarrell from video and photos taken by BLM protesters, and later issued a warrant for his arrest. That warrant was served by authorities in Boyd County, leading to Jarrell’s arrest on August 7, Grayson PD reported.
This week, though, things were even more peaceful, and after BLM demonstrators – who planned a picnic in the park with hamburgers and hotdogs – invited counter-protesters to eat with them and discuss issues they made some progress. While not all of the armed counter-protesters chose to join the BLM rally in the park, most cleared out following several minutes of dialogue on the corner of Main Street and Carol Malone Boulevard where Garrett held his first demonstrations.
Larry Martin, a Grayson resident who was among counter-protesters, commended the BLM demonstrators for “coming over peaceful” to talk with him and others.
“This is the way it should have been done,” Martin said.
He said though he “came here with hate” the demonstrators changed his heart and he supported their rights to gather in Grayson and be heard “110 percent.” Others also came over to the cook-out to talk further and take photos with the BLM demonstrators before leaving.
“All those people aren’t bad people,” said Charles McCall, a Navy veteran and BLM demonstrator also with a group called People Motivating Other People. “They’re misinformed.”
“Some of these stereotypes… they found out they aren’t true,” McCall continued. “We’re not here to burn down and loot.”
He said that the counter-protesters agreed with the BLM supporters on many issues, even if they didn’t agree on the ways to address those issues. Despite that, he said, they were able to find common ground through dialogue.
Malaya Gunn, a sixteen-year-old activist from Huntington who helped organize the cook-out and spent significant amounts of time talking with counter-protesters, said she was glad that love was able to triumph.
“We did just have a conversation with that one guy,” Gunn said, indicating a man in a pickup truck, “and all those people over there (on the corner of Carol Malone and Main Street) and I just want to let everyone know that went really, really well. I was so happy with how that went. I feel like, a lot of people, in the moment, they get so heated and… that hatred and that pain and that sadness blocks their clarity. That’s why we go back and forth at each other all the time. But if we continuously go back and forth at each other, and that’s what he was talking about too, he was like, ‘If they say something like that, I just want to punch them in the face.’ I was like, ‘No, let’s not do that.’ There is no reason to do that. Talking to them today, going over there and talking to them, made so much change. Even if it was just one person, which it wasn’t, it was so many people, that’s what is amazing to me, that’s what is great, that unity is what we need more of. Unity is beautiful, and we’re all beautifully diverse, and that’s what I love to see.”
Gunn continued, saying she had several conversations with those gathered on the corner and after they returned to the park, with them sharing stories of their past and her sharing stories of her experiences.
“We just talked, like regular human beings… we had a conversation, from one person to another. We showed each other empathy. We showed each other compassion. And we showed each other love. And that’s what matters.”
After sharing a meal the BLM demonstrators went forward with a peaceful march, with no opposition.
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