By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
There was no NFAC militia. There were no Bloods nor Crips. No New Black Panthers. What Grayson did see on Sunday, however, were a whole lot of white faces with guns and – initially – one black face, with a few white friends. And a whole lot of ugliness.
While Dee Garrett attempted to speak through a megaphone at the starting point for the most recent of his now regular Sunday demonstrations, several folks attempted to shout him down. Some brought up his criminal record. Some yelled for him to “go back where you came from.” Others hurled miscellaneous profanities and racial slurs. At least one moved close to the protesters and spouted faux-African gibberish, including the repeated phrase “oom gowa.” But the only thing that caught on was when someone raised the chant of “U.S.A” which rolled through the crowd like a wave, drowning out all other voices.
Most of the counter-protesters lining the sidewalk along the marching route of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators claimed they were only out to protect the city and back police in case of rioting or looting. This seemed to be true for some, and when the gang members, Black Panthers, and NFAC reported in social media posts failed to show a large number of the counter-protesters cleared off from the marching route, so that the sidewalks were less crowded on the return trip.
What this meant, though, in practical terms was that the individuals looking for a fight or looking to spread racial hate were more visible on subsequent marches. One man screamed “pedophile” at Garrett and dared him to take a swing at him while Garrett smiled in return and police moved to position themselves between the two men. Another followed and taunted the crowd with a rebel flag bandana, waving it at the small group of protesters like a matador baiting a bull. On the final trip back up Main Street for the BLM demonstrators, before turning and returning to the police station for the last time, one small but loud group of hecklers made sexual noises, laughed among themselves as they told fried chicken jokes, and lewdly propositioned a female demonstrator. Others, from the comfort of air conditioned trucks, rolled down their windows to scream “get a job” as the demonstration turned the corner from Main Street to Robert and Mary for their final approach to the Grayson Police Station.
While the ugliness of racism and prejudice were on full and undeniable display on Sunday, putting to lie the claims of some social media commenters that BLM protests were unnecessary in Grayson because Carter County didn’t have a racism problem, not all among the counter-protest tolerated the hate. Several who came out to ostensibly protect the city turned on those spewing racist rhetoric and reminded them that the protesters had every right to march as long as they remained peaceful. When the group took a knee in front of the Grayson police station for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence – in remembrance of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – they invited those among the counter protesters to join them in somber reflection and prayer, and at least three joined them in the street or by kneeling on the sidewalk. Others engaged in dialogue with Garrett and other demonstrators, with one BLM demonstrator claiming that he had found common ground with some of the Three Percenter militia members who told him they also worried about the militarization of police and federal overreach. Still others, such as a group of street preachers, took the megaphone offered by Garrett to beg for unity and to pray with the BLM demonstrators, even though they said they didn’t agree with everything the group stood for.
At the end of the day, Garrett said he felt that his group had, at the very least, reached a few individuals. He said what he felt the city, the university, the church, and the people needed was unity, but that this demonstration showed the city and county had a long way to go – and a lot of self reflection – before that unity could be achieved.
“All this, because of one black man,” Garrett said, in reference to the heavily armed crowd, explaining that it helped prove his point about the racism ingrained in American society.
When asked about his Facebook videos, which have since been taken down along with his Facebook pages, Garrett apologized for losing his temper and getting angry at the hate and personal attacks thrown at him. He said he never threatened the town with outside agitators and gang members, though.
“I said they could come,” Garrett clarified, though some of the counter-demonstrators who claimed to have viewed the videos before they were removed argued that point with Garrett earlier in the day. In the end only a small group of BLM demonstrators stood with Garrett throughout the march, and of those only a couple identified themselves as friends of Garrett’s from Cincinnati. The rest were Grayson locals who said they wanted to do the right thing, even though it was scary and intimidating for some of them to be surrounded by so many guns.
Grayson police, Carter County Sheriff’s deputies, and Kentucky State Troopers worked the route to keep the demonstration safe, along with help from Olive Hill police officers, and deputies from the Greenup and Carter County detention centers and other first responders.
At the very end of the long, hot day one of the deputies who had marched the entire route with the protesters, each step of the way, engaged with Garrett. He told Garrett and his friend, Darius Clay, that while he didn’t support measures put forward by some BLM protesters, such as defunding the police, he was glad to protect their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and protest. Before leaving the protesters to their own devices he shared hugs with Garrett and Clay and they all wished each other well.
Garrett said he will be back on the street next Sunday, August 2, to continue spreading his message.
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