PRINEVILLE — For the third time since the end of May, Black Lives Matter protesters and counterprotesters lined an entire city block outside the Crook County Courthouse on Third Street.
Rumors of violence and looting drew a larger crowd Saturday, with hundreds of people on each side of the street, the busy main drag through Prineville. Many counterprotesters, who did not want the demonstration in their town, were heavily armed.
Law enforcement from several agencies made certain the protest would stay peaceful.
Cement barriers were set up along the street outside the courthouse with signs that told people to use the crosswalks or face arrest if they entered the roadway. Prineville Police reported no arrests.
Toward the end of the protest, people from both sides used the crosswalks so they could confront each other in heated conversations. No fights were reported.
Both sides felt it was necessary to be in Prineville on Saturday, despite two earlier rallies that produced death threats toward organizers.
The Black Lives Matter protesters came from across Central Oregon to spread their message about police brutality and racial inequality. The issues were sparked last month when a Black man, George Floyd, died in police custody after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Counterprotesters saw the demonstration as an attack on their police department and a way to paint the town’s residents as racists. They were motivated to protect their town.
As the Black Lives Matter protesters chanted, the counterprotesters across the street stood stoically. Some held their guns, while others held “Trump 2020” flags.
Tom Clark, a 76-year-old retired attorney from Bend, brought a sign to the protest that read, “No Hate, No Fear.” Clark said his main reason for attending the protest was to support the Black Lives Matter movement, not to demonstrate against the city of Prineville.
“It’s not about Prineville. It’s not about Crook County,” Clark said. “It’s about America.”
Bend resident Hannah Terrell, who attended the protest with her husband, Chris, said their Christian faith motivated them to support the cause, since they believe every single person deserves to be treated equally.
“To me, it’s very obvious that Black people are not just incredibly marginalized but are victims of the result of hundreds of years of systemic racism,” Hannah Terrell said. “And we have to acknowledge that. It would be inconsistent with my faith if I just kept quiet.”
Joshua Hernandez, a 39-year-old Bend resident, said he was invited to the protest by some friends who live in Prineville and helped organize the event. Hernandez has attended several other protests in Bend, and is focused on speaking out against police brutality.
Hernandez said he thinks about his 9-year-old daughter and how she might be treated by police when she is older.
“That’s why I’m here,” Hernandez said. “I want to make sure she grows up in a world where she isn’t afraid to drive down the street.”
Many businesses stayed open Saturday and welcomed people from both sides of the street.
Some business owners spent the afternoon outside of their shops to protect their property if the protest turned violent.
Melanie Marlow, owner of Painted Hills Custom Leather on Third Street, a block away from the protest, said she would have rather spent the day working inside on custom orders, but she felt she needed to stay outside and guard her shop.
“I need to be in there working,” she said. “I’m losing time.”
Prineville couple Coby and Kirsten Mudgett showed up Saturday and sat with the counterprotesters to show pride for their town and protect its reputation. The couple each wore shirts that said “Prineville, Oregon.”
Coby Mudgett said he attended the Prineville protest last weekend and was accused of being a racist by people at the protest. That upset him.
“I love everybody,” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone hurt on either side.”
Mudgett said his hope for the day was that the protest stayed peaceful.
“I just want to see everyone walk away from this,” he said. “Hopefully their side got something out of it, and hopefully we got something out of it.”
Madison Russell, a 20-year-old Prineville resident, stood with the counterprotesters holding a sign that read, “Support Prineville Police and Crook County Sheriff’s Office.”
Russell hopes to be a police officer someday, and she wanted to show her support.
“My goal is to be able to work here in Prineville or in the surrounding areas,” she said.
Like many others, Russell did not want to see the protest turn violent. Throughout the day, she felt safe standing with the counterprotesters.
“All these people won’t let anything happen to this town,” she said. “They don’t mess around here.”