GRAYSON More than 250 counter-protesters came out armed with semi-automatic assault rifles and pistols to confront 20 or so Black Lives Matter protesters in Grayson Sunday.
Amid social media rumors of the Not F—ing Around Coalition – a black militia – the infamous street gangs the Crips and the Bloods and the Black Panthers descending on the town of roughly 4,200 people, members of biker gangs and militia groups descended on the town to “provide security.”
What some of them wound up doing was shouting down a group of teenagers and young adults, with many of the counter-protesters hurling racial slurs such as the n-word and “monkey.”
Despite all the weaponry – AK-47s, AR-15s (with or without a drum clip) and long rifles – no shot was fired.
Carter County Sheriff's deputies and Grayson Police blocked off Main Street at Landownes and Carol Malone Boulevard the night prior. Before the demonstrators arrived, officers congregated at the barricades with riot shields.
Hours prior to the arrival of protesters, armed men and women took up posts along the streets, hiding beneath the shade of business awnings. Gun men posted on top of the roofs. The atmosphere was cordial, with men joking around and smoking cigarettes.
That congeniality melted in the sun at about 2 p.m. on the dot, when the protesters arrived.
Dee Garrett, who has put on demonstrations before in Grayson, stood in the street shirtless, wearing burgundy pants and brown dress shoes. At the small park catty-corner from the circuit court house, more than 50 people had been posted since the late morning.
One man stood on top of a rooftop, hurling slurs, telling Garrett to go home.
A scrum of people – some protesters, many counter-protesters – surrounded Garrett, shouting him down and calling him a child molester. Garrett is on the Kentucky sex-offender registry for a conviction he got in Ohio.
Carter County Sheriff’s and Greenup County Detention Center correctional officers got into the fray, forming a wall between the angry hoard of white counter-protesters and the Black man.
One man shouted, “You threatened our town, we're not racist, boy.”
Another group of protesters, who had formed a small picket at the corner of Main Street and Carol Malone, weren't greeted with near the hostility.
Jamie Baker, a Black woman living in Grayson, was with that contingent. She said back in the day, her grandmother marched in the Civil Rights Movement in West Virginia.
“She talked about the abuse she got, now look at this,” Baker said, holding back tears in her eyes. “I'm here fighting for my son, because I'm tired of him coming home from school with a bloodied nose and telling me he's called chocolate milk.”
With police escorting them, that group made its way up the hill to the court house.
As they approached, militia members formed a chain in the road, opening up right when they saw it was police heading the procession. With all the BLM protesters together, the crowd of counter-protesters continued to hurl derogatory remarks. Eventually, they broke into chants of “USA.”
The protesters marched down Main Street toward the intersection of Carol Malone. As they moved, a group of the militia men were behind them, heckling the demonstrators.
Garrett, freshly out of the scrum, said he wasn't scared.
“I'm protected. I'm protected by the spirit,” he said with a smile.
The crowd of counter-protesters stopped at the intersection, with one man bearing an American flag mixed with the Confederate Flag – Kentucky was a union state – saying, “Y'all come back now, you hear?”
About a block from the police station, a man shouted from a window, “Black lives splatter.”
At the station, Garrett and other demonstrators tried to give a speech, but the crowd of about 35 counter-protesters kept interrupting and heckling.
At one point, a counter-protester asked, “Why are y'all doing it here?”
A white protester said it was because “people keep yelling n--- out of truck windows.”
She was admonished by other protesters for saying that word.
After a 10-15 minute back-and-forth with the counter-protesters, the group headed back toward downtown – at this point, the counter-protesters had probably dwindled by half. And on it went – back and forth, yelling and shouting, a few birds flipped.
At around 5 p.m., a large man with a rifle approached local activist Austin Johnson. Johnson, who led last month's protest in South Point, had been recording the event to put on his Facebook page.
The man accused Johnson of making his mother cry – Johnson had allegedly interviewed her. Taken aback, Johnson said he hadn't done anything like that. The man then threatened to punch Johnson out if he found it was him.
After much back-and-forth, the man cooled down, admitting his mother is “a bit of an emotional type.”
“It's hotter than two fat girls inside a car without AC fighting over a chicken nugget out here,” he said. “I'm sorry I came off like that.”
The two fist-bumped and went their separate ways.
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