When word began to spread through town of a planned protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the rumor mill kicked into high gear. Via social media and old-fashioned over-the-fence gossip, scary stories ignited like a wildfire:
Hundreds of Confederate flag-flying bikers were en route to disrupt the protest. Leftist operatives outside the area were sending in paid agitators to mingle with the participants and attempt to incite the police. The protesters were going to get rip-roaring drunk at a local club before they marched. They were going to deviate from the planned route and invade our nice, safe neighborhoods to wreak havoc.
On Facebook, posts and comments of a hateful nature soon appeared. People expressed hope the protesters would be arrested before the event even began. Others suggested the marchers were unemployed welfare bums. A few even proclaimed their wish that marchers be injured (or worse) by the authorities or a deranged spectator.
As Bluefield hunkered down and held its breath in worried anticipation, the protest began…. And ended with nary a torch or a looting in sight. The 100 or so marchers carried their signs, sang hymns and called for reform. Bystanders were respectful, snapping photos or expressing support. Law enforcement was on hand but remained at a distance.
With all fears of a violent uprising now quelled, complainers on social media then shifted their attention to the large number of peace officers on hand, the decision of some businesses on the route to close early, and the brief obstruction of traffic.
Many residents of the city appear to think the organizers and participants of the protest should have somehow been made to suffer for all the fuss they caused. They should have been fined or thrown in jail because they caused a temporary disruption to the affairs of south Bluefield. They should have been held liable for the supposed thousands of dollars in lost business. They should have been ashamed for the inconvenience they caused some motorists who had to make detours to reach their destination. Ad infinitum.
I personally find the never-ending pipe work along Cumberland Road to have been a lot more disruptive than my brief inability to drive down College Avenue Friday evening.
Residents of the city of Bluefield, our local law enforcement officials, and yes, the marchers themselves should actually be proud. A bunch of people were able to safely air their concerns on a very divisive issue. No one was arrested or hurt. Police officers weren’t threatened or insulted. There was no vandalism, no arson, no shooting, no hatred.
If you’re one of those who think the protest was an unneeded disruption, get over it. Should you ever feel the need to exercise your First Amendment rights, you would be afforded the same treatment offered to those who marched for Blackout The Field.
As far as I’m concerned, the protest of Friday, July 15, is a shining example of the tolerance and respect for one another - no matter one’s race, ethnic background, political leanings or socio-economic status - that is so prevalent in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia.
To the marchers, the organizers, the authorities and city officials - well done!