Rogersville police prepared for Saturday's scheduled BLM protest

Jeff Bobo • Jul 8, 2020 at 9:15 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Black Lives Matter protests last weekend in Marion, Va., and Elizabethton produced no arrests, no violence, and no vandalism, an outcome Rogersville Police Chief Doug Nelson said he’s hoping for when the BLM movement comes to his town Saturday evening.

However, law enforcement will be out in full force Saturday in Rogersville beginning at 5 p.m., which is when the Johnson City-based New Panther Initiative has stated it will begin its protest in downtown Rogersville.

Nelson noted that several area police departments including Greeneville, Jefferson County, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol have volunteered to help local officers keep the peace.

Police are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

“We’re going to have plenty of help”

“We’ll just wait and see what they (protesters) do and act accordingly,” Nelson told the Times News Monday. “We’re going to have plenty of help and see how it goes.”

Nelson added, “We’re going to have a whole lot of extra people out there. If everybody who comes down here is real nice, that will be fine. If they’re not, they’ll probably go home a whole lot unhappier then when they came here. That’s about all I can tell them.”

The Marion and Elizabethton protests, at their worst, produced shouting matches between protesters and counter-protesters and the occasional racial slur.

The same can’t be said about a spontaneous protest that erupted outside a Johnson City pawn shop last week after the business refused to sell firearms to a group of people wearing New Panthers T-shifts. One counter-protester was charged with disorderly conduct after a fight broke out with protesters, and a pawn shop employee was issued a criminal summons for simple assault after video showed him taking a woman to the ground.

“We are proud of what we have accomplished together”

Rogersville is Tennessee’s second oldest city with many historic buildings, and the violent nature of some BLM protests hasn’t been overlooked by local leaders. On Tuesday, Rogersville Mayor Jim Sells issued a press release stating, “We are proud to have forged a history of a town without racial or class discord of any nature whatsoever.

“We believe our town is the embodiment of the declaration that ‘all men are created equal’ as contained in our nation’s Declaration of Independence,” Sells said. “The citizens of our town, of all races, colors and religions, have gone to great efforts to preserve the historical character and beauty of the Town of Rogersville, and we are proud of what we have accomplished together.”

Sells added, “We respect each individual’s right to peacefully assemble, to petition the government for a redress of grievances. However, the town will not tolerate violence, the destruction of property, or personal injury. The town and all of its public safety resources will be available to ensure that our citizens and the public are protected.”

“Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”

Nelson told the Times News no one will go to jail Saturday in Rogersville as long as everyone obeys the law.

That means they can’t block the streets, and they can’t be on any private property or blocking anybody’s business, Nelson said. They can be on the sidewalk moving, but they can’t be in the street blocking traffic.

Nelson said those rules “will be enforced and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“We haven’t had any race problems”

As for the protest itself, Nelson believes it is unwarranted in Rogersville, and he simply wants to get it over with.

“I don’t know why you’d want to go to somebody’s town that’s not having problems and try to cause problems,” Nelson said. “If we were having problems here, I could see it. … We know not to do that (racially discriminate). We haven’t had any race problems. We don’t pick on anybody from whatever race. We’ve got all kinds of people here: Latinos, Blacks, Asians, whatever, and we don’t have a problem with anybody.”

New Panther Initiative co-founder Arron Rashad told the Times News last week that Saturday’s protest was scheduled in direct response to what he claimed was racist behavior of some members of a civilian counter-protest that occurred in downtown Rogersville on Friday, June 26.

That counter-protest was in response to erroneous reports circulated on social media that a BLM protest and “rioters” were headed to Rogersville by the busload that night. 

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