One of the encouraging signs about the recent demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism is that they have not been confined just to the big cities but have also extended to small towns across the country. However, it was only a matter of time before there was a backlash against this and we saw one such incident in Bethel, Ohio when a woman in that town decided to organize a rally to show solidarity with the demonstrations that were taking place in cities across the country.
A small and peaceful demonstration in an Ohio town to support the Black Lives Matter movement at the weekend was overwhelmed when hundreds of counter-protesters – some armed with rifles or baseball bats – harassed the group.
Alicia Gee, a 36-year-old substitute school teacher, expected about 50 people to attend a demonstration – the first protest she had ever organized, she told the Cincinnati Enquirer – but almost twice as many turned out.
The rally was intended to show solidarity with the minority black community in Bethel, a mostly white town of about 2,800 people 30 miles east of Cincinnati, she added.
But the small group of protesters were overwhelmed when roughly 700 counter-protesters turned up to show their opposition to the kind of rallies and marches against racism and police brutality sweeping the nation since the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May.
Gee’s gathering demonstrated the renewed reach of the Black Lives Matter movement to small, majority white towns in the midwest that haven’t seen protests in years, spurred by recent, high-profile examples of killings of black people by white police officers or armed individuals acting as vigilantes.
But the demonstration was engulfed by a combination of armed gun-rights defenders, “back the blue” pro-police groups and about 250 people on motorcycles, which forced the group to move two blocks from its original location and led to tumult.
Videos from what turned into a two-hour clash, several of which circulated on Twitter and Facebook, show the counter-protesters shouting racial slurs and “all lives matter” and accosting demonstrators.
In another Facebook live video, Heather Bratton, also from Bethel, asserts “this is my hometown too!” to a white woman who repeatedly uses the N-word.
A few counter-demonstrators “started coming over and ripping signs out of our hands, ripping the hats and masks off of our faces, ripping things out of our pockets,” wrote demonstrator Abbi Remers on Facebook, along with a photo of a man’s bloody cheek, a bloodied mask, and video of men shouting “This ain’t Seattle!” and “This is a Republican state!”
Another widely circulated video shows a man wearing what appears to be a Confederate flag bandana sucker-punching a protester in the back of the head in front of a police officer, who makes no arrest attempt. The video drew condemnation from Ohio senator Sherrod Brown.
Ohio used to be considered a swing state that would sometimes go Democratic in presidential elections but in recent years it seems to have become solidly Republican. It takes a lot of guts for people who live in parts of the country that are so pro-Trump and pro-police to organize such rallies.