By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Temperatures, and tempers, were still hot this past Sunday, but – with the exception of a brief altercation at the beginning of the march – neither seemed nearly as hot as they were during last week’s event.
There was a larger contingent of BLM protesters this week than there was at last week’s controversial march, and a smaller group of counter-protesters. But what was most striking was how many on both sides were from outside of Grayson and Carter County this week. License plates on cars showed that some of the folks lining the march route came from as far away as Pennsylvania. Other vehicles displayed tags from neighboring states Ohio and West Virginia. One man among the counter-protesters told the Times he came from Corbin, Kentucky to join the event. Another couple – who loudly screamed at BLM marchers to “go home” – said they came to Grayson from Fleming County. Others identified as being from neighboring counties like Greenup, Boyd, and Lawrence.
On the BLM side, there were marchers from Grayson and Rush, as well as from Cincinnati, and others representing the Ironton/Ashland/Huntington based People Motivating Other People (PMOP) group.
On the local end of things a few Carter County and Grayson residents were out again to make sure that things stayed safe. Grayson residents Raymond Bailey and Josh Kibbey, for instance, said that was why they were on the street Sunday. Neither carried weapons, but they said Grayson was their home and they would help protect local businesses and property in any way they could. Those who hailed from Grayson weren’t just out to protect the city from BLM or Antifa agitators either, they said. One, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he knew there were KKK members, “just without their robes,” from outside states among the large crowd the previous week and he was worried some might return and attempt to escalate hostilities.
Other locals were represented by First Baptist Church, who handed out water on both sides of the street to anyone who was hot and thirsty.
While armed members of the III Percent movement – there to support law enforcement and ensure security for folks on both sides – and others lined the street, BLM supporters gathered on Park Street, near Grayson City Hall. The advertised 2 p.m. march didn’t begin until around 3:30 p.m.
As the march began, and BLM protesters crossed Carol Malone Boulevard and made their way up the Main Street sidewalk, there was a brief tussle as someone came out of the crowd to punch BLM supporter Darius Clay, knocking him to the ground and kicking him. An unidentified female was reportedly struck as well, when she attempted to help Clay, and a child was knocked to the ground during the attack.
Law enforcement reacted quickly to break up the altercation, and though no arrests were made at the time, Grayson Police had identified a person of interest in the attack late on Sunday. That identification was based on cell phone footage and photos of the attack.
On Tuesday Grayson’s acting Chief of Police, Travis Steele, confirmed that the suspect’s name was William Jarrell, of Ashland. Steele also confirmed that a warrant has been issued for Jarrell’s arrest on fourth degree assault charges.
Other than that brief flurry of activity at the beginning of the march, the event was less intense and included less marching than last week’s demonstration.
Charles McCall, a Navy veteran associated with PMOP and marching with BLM demonstrators, said this was the sixth protest he had been to, and all had been peaceful so far. He said he was motivated to come out to Grayson after watching last week’s livestream from Marshall University journalism student and Ironton Tribune intern Austin Johnson. McCall said that he chose to join the demonstrations he had attended for two main reasons. The first was the protection of First Amendment rights to speech, assembly and petition the government for redress of grievances.
“Everyone deserves a right to speak,” McCall said. “That’s why I served (in the Navy).”
The second was the future he wanted for his children and the nation.
“People are talking. People are becoming aware (that we) need a change,” he said. “But I don’t want my kids to have to do this when they grow up.”
Daniel Murphy, a high school teacher and friend of McCall, also mentioned his children when speaking about why he joined the event.
“My kids began to ask me questions,” he said. “And I could not lie to her about it. I could no longer demand justice from the sideline. If I don’t march, I’m agreeing to it (the injustice). If I don’t march, I’m asking my kids to do it.”
Murphy also said he was glad to see people on the other side of the issue out exercising their rights.
“I’m thankful for the other side,” he said. “This is America. This is the right they are entitled to. You are allowed your opinion. But when it comes to justice, there is no opinion. Justice is for all.”
When event organizer Dee Garrett spoke to the crowd before the march began he also mentioned justice, specifically for the slain Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor.
He said he would “not stop in Grayson” until Breonna Taylor had justice.
While Garret was the object of derision and vitriol once again, by individuals focusing on his criminal record, and shouting him down during the marchers stop at the courthouse, Murphy and McCall engaged in meaningful conversation with counter-protesters and others. But while some were more intent on shouting Garrett down than listening to him, Bailey – the Grayson resident – walked into the street and engaged with Garrett, shaking his hand at the end of their conversation. Afterward he said if Garrett was sincere about not wanting anything bad to happen in Grayson, or to Grayson businesses, he had no problems with him.
Murphy likewise said later that he had talked with representatives of the III Percenters outside the courthouse who told him if Garrett was sincere in his assertion that he wanted nothing bad to happen in Grayson, and in his apology for losing his temper, they would support the local BLM movement. Jamie Wheeler, a member of the III Percenters from Lawrence County who explained he was in Grayson because it was within his regional district, confirmed Murphy’s statement. He said the III Percenters were there to protect everyone’s First Amendment rights. He also told BLM demonstrators, who expressed concern about other armed men moving in behind them as they approached the police station, not to worry because he had their backs.
When asked if he felt that Garrett had become too contentious and divisive to represent a peaceful movement in Grayson, Murphy said no. He said he felt Garrett could still do good in the community and that because he started the movement here he should be able to finish it.
The BLM protesters ended their march to the police station with another eight minute and 46 second period of quiet and somber reflection, kneeling in the street in front of the police station. They then marched back down Robert and Mary Street and up Main Street, turning at Carol Malone before dispersing at the end of the block.
Grayson Mayor George Steele told the Times on Monday that the protests were costing the city a lot of money in overtime pay for police and thanked the Little Sandy Correctional Facility for the loan of helmets, shields and other gear used by Grasyon police while maintaining the peace.
Acting Chief of Police Steele also noted the stress on the city’s, and the county’s, budget from the protests.
“It’s not just the city,” Steele said. “Carter County Fiscal Court has spent a lot of money as well. It’s costing the county (for the sheriff deputies) and the Commonwealth (for the presence of state police officers.)”
Steele also noted that there were costs associated with jail deputies who have assisted, and EMS and fire department staff who have been on standby.
Despite the cost, though, Steele said his department will continue to do what is necessary to protect the community and the rights of protesters on both sides.
“Our biggest focus is the protection of people and property,” Steele said.
“As long as it is a constitutionally protected activity, we will allow it to happen,” Steele continued. “When it is not a protected activity, like assault, we will act.”
Steele said most of the protests have been peaceful and that if they stayed peaceful the city would not take any action to shut the demonstrations down.
“Our main focus is to allow them to excercise their rights, safely,” he said.
Garrett said he will hold another rally next Sunday.
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