ROGERSVILLE — The Black Lives Matter movement came to Rogersville Saturday promising a peaceful protest, and although there was no shortage of heated exchanges between protesters and counter-protesters, the only physical contact between the two groups was friendly.

A Johnson City-based BLM group calling itself the New Panther Initiative arrived in town around 5 p.m.

The two factions were separated by a barrier that divided Main Street at the Depot Street intersection and was lined with police officers on both sides.

Protesters were on the west side, counter-protesters on the east side.

Ugly exchanges and profanity spewed from both groups, but occasionally people on both sides came together to exchange handshakes, agreeing to peacefully disagree.

About an hour into the protest, there was a scuffle which resulted in at least four counter-protesters being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Law enforcement told the Times News that a total of seven or eight people overall are expected to be charged with disorderly conduct or similar charges.

Specific information about the arrests wasn’t expected to be available until Monday.

PUSHING THE BOUNDARY OF ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR

A witness from the law enforcement community told the Times-News, however, that a “white supremacist group” had been pushing the boundary of acceptable behavior throughout the protest.

When other counter-protesters confronted them about their behavior, particularly their language, a scuffle reportedly broke out, and police removed and arrested some of the white supremacists.

The heavy presence of law enforcement undoubtedly discouraged any further violence.

The New Panther Initiative left Rogersville around 7:45, after approximately two and a half hours of protesting.

ORIGINS OF SATURDAY’S DOWNTOWN PROTEST

On Friday, June 26, a false rumor about a planned BLM protest in downtown Rogersville was widely circulated on social media, resulting in an organized counter-protest which assembled in front of the courthouse and war memorial.

New Panther Initiative co-founder Arron Rashad (aka Arron Valentine) told the Times News a few days later that he had received reports of racist behavior taking place during that event. Many of Rashad’s allegations have subsequently been refuted by police and other witnesses.

Rashad said he had scheduled a peaceful BLM protest in response to the counter-protest that took place last month.

With confirmation that an actual protest was coming to Rogersville, however, the counter-protest faction on hand Saturday evening was substantially larger than the group that formed on June 26.

“IT SHOULD BE ALL PEOPLE MATTER”

Shortly after 5 p.m., protesters gathered in a parking lot on Kyle Street a block east of City Hall, where they received instructions from protest leaders such as, “Don’t give people your opinion. … Come at them with education, and if you can’t, give them to someone who can.”

Meanwhile, the counter-protesters were waiting in huge numbers in front of the courthouse.

“I’m here to support my country like I always have and back up anybody who needs help, and keep it to where everybody can get along,” said veteran “Wild” Bill Drinnon from Rogersville, who was on the counter-protester side of the barrier. “I’d like to see it come out peaceful. That’s what everybody wants. But this is a historic town and these people aren’t harming anybody. However, this (protest movement) got started, it’s ended up the wrong way. … There’s no racial (unrest) around here, and we don’t need this here.”

Dennis Chamberlain, a military veteran and former Hawkins County mayoral candidate, said he came to town “to see what these people want.”

“It’s gone too far,” Chamberlain said. “We’ve given in, and given in, and given in to them. I’m talking about the Blacks. How much more do they want? On TV they’re in every commercial, on TV shows, they got their own network, their own Miss America contest. How much more do they want? They’ve got more equality than you and me have.

“(They’re coming) to cause trouble. To see what we’re going to act like. It should be ‘All people matter.’ Not just ‘Black people matter.’ ”

Counter-protester Darrell Harwood of Morristown pointed at the Hawkins County Veterans Memorial and told the Times News, “That doesn’t touch the ground. If you come after that, we’re coming after you. It’s that simple. … They’re coming to a peaceful town where people get along and trying to start trouble. We don’t need that.”

“EVERYBODY IS OUT HERE PEACEFULLY”

At the outset of the event, protesters marched west along Kyle Street and turned left on Depot toward Town Square and the counter-protesters. Upon their arrival on Main Street, the protesters were met with verbal abuse and profanity as they chanted, “We come in peace. We’re not going to hurt anybody or anything. We only want everyone in this community to know Black Lives Matter.”

One of the protesters’ most frequent chants was, “All lives don’t matter until what? Black lives matter.”

Meanwhile some of the counter-protester screamed at protesters, “Pitiful. You’re an embarrassment. All lives matter.”

As the protest was winding down, Rashad told the Times News he felt there were positive results from Saturday’s protest.

“I think it’s going great, everybody is out here peacefully, and I think a lot of people from their side are starting to open up and hear our point — what we have to say,” Rashad said. “At the same time we’re able to have conversations with people and understand why they feel against what we’re saying. It’s just a good exchanging of ideas right now.”

REACTION TO ANGRY COUNTER-PROTESTERS

Rashad said, “I hope that something we said or something we did is going to maybe give them something to think about when they go home. Nobody is guaranteed to change their mind.

“A lot of people are conditioned to believe the things they believe from birth. I just hope that us being out here and showing solidarity is showing that the community can come together and acknowledge these issues.”

He added, “Just like earlier, there was a problem with some neo-Nazis in the crowd, and the counter-protesters are the ones who kicked them out. That’s beautiful. I think that speaks to the fact we are all speaking together and we are all coming together.”


ROGERSVILLE — The Black Lives Matter movement came to Rogersville Saturday evening chanting for a peaceful protest, although there was no shortage of heated exchanges between protesters and counter-protesters.

The two factions were separated by a barrier lined by police officers on both side at the intersection of Main Street and Depot Street at Town Square.

Protesters were on the west side of the barrier, and counter-protesters were on the east side.

Although there were ugly exchanges over the barrier, the only physical contact was the occasional handshakes between members of opposing sides who agreed to peacefully disagree.

The protest began shortly after 5 p.m., and about an hour into the protest there was a scuffle on the counter-protester side of the barrier which resulted in four counter-protesters being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Law enforcement told the Times News a total of seven or eight people overall are expected to be charged with disorderly conduct or similar charges, but specific information on the arrests isn't expected to be available until Monday.

The extremely heavy presence of law enforcement undoubtedly discouraged any further violence, and the protest movement, known as the New Panther Initiative based in Johnson City, left Rogersville around 7:45 p.m. after approximately 2.5 hours of protesting.

See Sunday's edition of the Times News and check back later at TimesNews.net for full coverage of the event.