On June 14, 2020, a Black Lives Matter protest in Bethel, Ohio was surrounded by a group of counter protesters. A small group of BLM protesters of around 80, organized the event on Facebook as “Bethel’s Solidarity with Black Lives Demonstration,” joining the Black Lives Matter protests across the nation and the world.
However, according to the Bethel Police Department, 750 to 800 people from several motorcycle gangs, “Back the Blue” groups, and Second Amendment advocates surrounded the protesters in the area, many carrying rifles, baseball bats, and other weapons. The counter protesters claimed to be fighting against disorderly conduct and destruction caused by ANTIFA, though counter protesters were seen starting multiple fights. Around 10 minor scuffles broke out as a result of the confrontation. In one such instance, a BLM protester was punched in the back of the head as counter protesters shouted “USA! USA!” repeatedly.
Following the wave of violence, both the police chief and the mayor denounced the actions of the counter protesters. According to Police Chief Steven Teague, the event was “a little scary,” as they were outnumbered in terms of weaponry when facing the counter-protesters. Mayor Jay Noble said, “When it comes to the violence part and breaking the laws, I do condemn,” after outcry of the incident.
As of now, it seems that further demonstrations in the town are unlikely. “Even though we illuminated the division that was already there, furthering that division with protests or demonstrations or more people coming to our community is just going to further the divide,” said Alicia Gee, the organizer of the Black Lives Matter Protest.
Though, in most recent events, despite the tensions seen two weeks ago, the event organizers of Bethel’s Black Lives Matter protest have moved on to try to create dialogue about police, race, and small towns in America. Several organizers have reached out to the counter protesters over the phone and are trying to find common ground.
“It’s very difficult to change someone’s mind, especially change someone’s heart, if you’re yelling at them through a bullhorn. We’re both human beings” event organizer Brian Garry stated. As tensions cool off after the confrontations in the small town, residents of Bethel and nearby counties hope to come out with new perspectives through continual discussion.