Weekend protests clash in Charleston


Karina Delgado | The Daily Eastern News

Black Lives Matter counterprotesters demonstrate on the steps of the Coles County Courthouse on Aug. 29.

Corryn Brock and Elizabeth Taylor

Two groups, one supporting law enforcement and the other supporting Black Lives Matter gave their views a platform this weekend at the Coles County Courthouse.

However, people supporting the Back the Blue rally and those supporting the Black Lives Matter counterprotest briefly clashed on the square on Saturday, minutes after the rally.

The conflict did not escalate to largescale physical violence, but heated verbal exchanges and alleged aggressive physical contact between the two sides went on for some time before the members of the Coles County Sheriff’s Office, Charleston Police Department and University Police Department dispersed the crowds.

The Back the Blue rally was organized by Michael Neal, a Charleston resident who wanted to show support of law enforcement agencies.

Over 200 people attended the event, which was held on the south side of the square. Many wore clothing or brought signs with various pro-law enforcement slogans.

Community members spoke for just under an hour, while around 50 Black Lives Matter supporters gathered on the north side of the square.

After the rally was officially over, organizers from the BLM group spoke to police officers before leading a march toward the south side of the square.

Many of the rally attendees had already dispersed by the time the two groups interacted, but arguments broke out almost immediately.

The march halted briefly, but after a few minutes the police force led the group toward the courthouse steps where the rally was held.

Counter-protesters grouped together on the steps, holding up signs and flags with Black Lives Matter slogans and messages, and were separated from the Back the Blue group by a line of police officers.

Arguments and shouting matches continued for around half an hour, but as it became obvious that neither group would leave, the police separated the two groups and moved them off the road to the sidewalks.

At this point, the Back the Blue supporters dispersed. The BLM counterprotesters marched around the square on the sidewalk once before doing the same.

Community member and Back the Blue rally attendee Starla Gaines said she came to the event to support the officers in Charleston.

“I just feel the need to support the police around here,” Gaines said. “I’ve had good experiences with them and I’m aware that there are some cops out there that breach their ethics and I think they do get dealt with when they need to be but I feel as a person in the community who feels strongly about protecting everyone I feel like I should show up and show my support.”

Brianna Hull-Dennis, sophomore communications major, was a main organizer of the counterprotest.

Hull-Dennis said the purpose of the counterprotest was to combat blind support of the police.

“We’re trying to critique the police. Black Lives Matter doesn’t necessarily have to be anti-police but it’s been made so, it’s a hard conversation to have. We just need to show that if you show love for the police, you embolden their acts,” Hull-Dennis said. “You make them feel righteous in the way that they act, you make them martyrs when anything happens to them.”

Gaines said she supports anyone who wants to speak peacefully but understands that emotions can run high.

“I support anyone who goes out and speaks as long as they’re doing so peacefully. I’m not really for any violence in any shape or form. I think it went pretty well compared to most places that has gone down at, I think that we handled it pretty well for the most part,” Gaines said. “Some people got out of hand but that happens when people get emotional and that’s just human nature.”

Jordan Samuels, junior digital media technology major, said he took issue with the idea that protests must be peaceful to be considered valid.

“We sat on these streets, we sat in coffee shops, we sat everywhere to be peaceful. Y’all shot us with water hoses, y’all beat us with batons, what else do y’all want us to do? I’m tired of being peaceful, I’m tired of just talking,” Samuels said. “I’m here today because I want justice and equality for everyone.”

Lynn Payton was a community member who attended the rally but left before the counterprotesters approached.

“I loved it. It was very uplifting, it was very honest, it was very respectful,” Payton said. “People need to have respect for each other, including law enforcement and each other.”

L Crawley, a junior communications and video production major, said she was not happy with the response to the BLM supporters.

“I didn’t appreciate being pushed or cursed at. Someone physically put their hands on me so I’m pressing charges. I didn’t appreciate the fact that only our side was policed when we were the ones being peaceful, when other people were throwing out racial slurs and cursing at us. They were threatened by our passions because systematically Black people are more threatening even though we weren’t doing anything wrong,” Crawley said. “It was a little disheartening because we partnered with the police to do this.”

At least two candidates for state political offices were in attendance for the events.

Darren Bailey, candidate for Illinois’ Senate’s 55th District, was in attendance to support the Back the Blue rally and Kody Czerwonka, candidate for Illinois House District 110, attended the counterprotest.

The Daily Eastern News was unable to locate Bailey before he left the square.

Czerwonka, however, was able to be reached directly following the groups finally dispersing.

He said he felt progress was made between the two groups.

“I think it was productive conversation, especially at the end with both sides and I think ultimately that’s the goal that needs to happen to implement change because everything is so divided, and you’re either in one side or you’re on the other side and it’s important to have those conversations to try to have an understanding with the other side. Silence shouldn’t be an option,” Czerwonka said. “We’re so divided right now and people need to speak up for the people who haven’t really had a voice the past 100 hundred years and it’s important that everyone speaks up against racism and prejudices.”

Some Eastern students who attended on the side of the counterprotest said they felt disrespected by statements from the rally attendees.

Samuels took issue with the use of Black culture by people who do not care about Black issues.

“What irritates you about my skin so much? What irritates you so much that I could walk down the street and you think I’m a thief? But yet, y’all came here, y’all took us, y’all killed natives, y’all killed, y’all raped, y’all stole, all this,” Samuels said. “Y’all stole culture to try to make it your own, y’all try to be black people so bad but when it’s time to be black, y’all don’t want to be black. Y’all don’t want to be shot, y’all don’t want to be beaten, y’all don’t want to be in jail for something you didn’t do. So stop saying you care about black people when you see a black person on the floor dead, y’all want to walk, run and go about your day. You can’t do that.”

Crawley said she felt a personal connection to Breonna Taylor, fatally shot by police March 13.

“I just moved here from Louisville, and Breonna Taylor was killed about 12 minutes from where I lived, so it could’ve been me or any of my friends, and the fact that the killers are still out there shakes me to my core,” she said. “The fact that they’re having a protest talking about ‘blue lives mattering,’ it’s like they’re doing everything in their power to take away from Black lives, and it’s like that’s not the point of our movement. We need to make it known that Black people do exist, we are worth fighting for, we deserve to live. They’re talking about blue lives matter… they’re doing it just to spite us.”


Elizabeth Taylor and Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]