Before the group of Black Lives Matter activists showed up the Morgan County Square was already surrounded by people holding flags, and some carrying guns.
The rally was supposed to start at 3 p.m., but as a man sat near the war memorial downtown, holding a 16-gauge shotgun, the activists were nowhere to be seen. The man spoke using words like family, and heritage and expressed he was concerned the war memorial would be vandalized.
Two other men stood in the shade near a wall holding AR-15 rifles, one said he had been a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army, as he talked to another man sitting next to a scoped military-style rifle on a tripod, who reached out to pet a dog on a leash.
A man wearing a Military Police hat to indicate his service in the army sat on a sidewalk a short distance away, and a group of women stopped at the corner to pray. A couple from Florida had broken down near the site of the protest, and asked, “What’s going on here?”
The United States has been the location of continuous Black Lives Matter protests since Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd in May. However, this was the second Black Lives Matter protest in Martinsville.
A man could be heard saying to some people in a vehicle, “They won’t get much support here. This isn’t Democrats like Bloomington.” However, a member of the Martinsville Police Department said that Martinsville doesn’t deserve the reputation it has and most people from the city would not protest against Black Lives Matter protesters. The city is known for the murder of a young Black woman in 1968, but it turned out the killer was from another city.
As a group of young women in their late teens or early 20s gathered to participate in the BLM rally, a man in his 50s walked past, looked at them, and grabbed his crotch.
Three women organized the rally Saturday. Katelynn Shaffer, and Shaelyn Powell, of Mooresville, spoke to a local reporter while they waited for BLM activist Sherry Tucker.
(Counter-protesters continued to show up at the square, and one man, maybe in his late 50s, wearing a white t-shirt looked at The Bloomingtonian’s Jeremy Hogan (me) weighed down with cameras and said in a threatening way, “Try it and see what happens,” as he put down a cooler, I noticed he was strapped with a handgun. So, I held my bottle of water and said to the man, “I already have water,” and then he said, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”)
“Black Lives Matter is for everyone. You don’t have to be black to support Black Lives Matter. I feel that if you are not a racist person and you, you, everyone, despite their skin color is equal to you that you would also want them to feel safe and for them to receive justice. We’re not anti-police officer. We’re not anti-white people. We’re just want to ensure that justice is served for people like Brionna Taylor and you know the names,” said Katelynn Shaffer of Mooresville.
Tension filled the square as two young men carried Trump flags past the BLM activists who were finally gathering around 4 p.m. Two men carried a sign for the reelection of Donald Trump, and a BLM activist began to engage verbally with them, and out of nowhere Martinsville Police rolled up and separated the men from the BLM activists.
A few of the BLM activists got AR-15 style rifles from their vehicles and carried them throughout the rally.
The Scallywags III-percenter motorcycle club rolled up around 4 p.m. and parked on the square. A member of the group told The Bloomingtonian they are second amendment activists, and they are against tyranny. Some of the same bikers had participated in a “Defend the Police” caravan in Bloomington earlier Saturday.
The men walked in a group past the BLM protesters, and one of them flipped off the activists. Later a biker parked right in front of the group to drown out their chants, and as he revved his engine, he made a fist. Police once again appeared, and a member of the Martinsville police went over to talk to the bikers.
“Our Black Lives don’t matter, that’s why we are out here protesting,” said one of the BLM activists.
A woman maybe in her 60s, wearing a plaid shirt, grey sweatpants, and blue sandals, could be heard saying, “They look like trouble makers to me. I protested against the Vietnam War, but I didn’t go to someone else’s town to do it.”
The Mayor of Martinsville, Kenneth Costin, standing on the square, told The Bloomingtonian he’d gotten no advance notice that the BLM activists would hold a rally in Martinsville, and when he heard about it, he reached out to the organizers of the previous rally, but they said they were not the organizers. The Mayor asked where the protesters had come from and seemed surprised that the bikers who had come to oppose them were also from out of town.
At various points during the rally, both sides insulted each other, and some people were held back by others, or the police.
A chaplain from the Martinsville Police Department handed out water to BLM protesters, and also the counter-protesters, and said he didn’t want anybody to have a medical emergency due to dehydration.
Sherry Tucker told the crowd of counter-protesters that it’s not that white lives don’t matter, they do matter, but since Black lives don’t matter, that until they do, all lives can’t matter.
Tucker told the crowd she’d answer any questions they had. Some counter-protesters yelled questions, and Tucker attempted to answer them. Then the BLM activists marched around the courthouse again, and a man in his 50s put a scoped hunting rifle back into his vehicle.
By 6 p.m. the crowd began to dissipate, and the BLM activists appeared to be huddled in a group preparing to leave the area.