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Civil rights group confirms plans for July 11 protest in Rogersville

Jeff Bobo • Jul 2, 2020 at 2:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A Black Lives Matter protest rumored for Rogersville last Friday evening may have been a hoax, but a co-founder of the Johnson City-based New Panthers Initiative told the Times News Wednesday a BLM protest now scheduled there for July 11 is for real.

Arron Rashad, also known as Arron Valentine of Elizabethton, told the Times News Wednesday that next week’s demonstration is a direct reaction to a counter-protest that took place in downtown Rogersville Friday.

False rumors were circulated on social media late last week that a BLM protest was going to be taking place in Rogersville. In response, a large contingent of residents staged a counter-protest in front of the courthouse to protect the Hawkins County Veterans Memorial.

Rashad told the Times News that he has heard reports of “racist behavior and intimidation” taking place during Friday’s counter demonstration. He said the July 11 demonstration in Rogersville is a direct reaction to those reports.

The Rogersville Police Department told the Times News that Friday’s counter-protest was mostly peaceful. The only disturbance reported occurred after a woman who was driving through town claimed she was called a racial slur by a counter-protester. The woman reportedly stopped to confront the alleged perpetrator, and a heated discussion ensued for about an hour, police said.

The Times News contacted the RPD for comment about the announced July 11 protest, but a response wasn’t issued before press time.

This past Friday, the local Sierra Club, which is comprised mainly of white women ages 65-80, had planned a meeting for a peaceful conversation with the black community at a church on Hasson Street, but the event was moved to Swift Park to accommodate social distancing guidelines. The event was canceled after false rumors were widely circulated on social media that a BLM protest was coming to Rogersville.

Rashad agreed Wednesday to answer some questions for the Times News.

Why are you coming to Rogersville on July 11?

Rashad: “We want to make sure that this church group (from Friday’s canceled event) and whoever else in this community … should have their voices heard. I’ve talked to many people from Rogersville, and they said the same thing over and over: It’s a racist place. Me and my friends, my brothers and sister, want to come and protect these people when they want to have their voices heard. I don’t understand all of a sudden why that makes us ‘thugs,’ when a group of ‘veterans’ and ‘bikers’ can huddle around a statue hurling racial slurs at people.”

What can local residents and businesses expect from protesters.

Rashad: “There’s going to be no damage to the town. We’re not coming to intimidate people. We’re not coming to bully people. We’re not coming to do anything other than make sure these people are protected, make sure these people’s rights to protest are observed. Regardless of the situation, a carload of whoever driving by should not be harassed. They want to call us a mob, but there was already a mob out there ready to incite stuff. Every protest we go to, we’re not the aggressor. We end up having some type of aggression pushed on to us. And then when we react, everybody is like, ‘the big, bad Panthers.’ We're going to stand up for our rights and make sure the rights of others are protected.”

Can you confirm that the rumored BLM protest this past Friday in Rogersville was a hoax?

Rashad: “Nobody in any group that I’m affiliated with — and I’m affiliated with pretty much every civil activist group from here to Knoxville — no group had planned anything, no group had said anything. What I was told after the fact is it was supposed to be a prayer vigil.”

Can you give me your reaction to the counter-protest that occurred?

Rashad: “They’re ugly, belligerent, bigoted racists. Nobody wants to damage their statues. … Nobody (in his organization) is worried about statues. We’re worried about how people are being treated.”

Respond to the alleged racial slur Friday evening.

Rashad: “That alone is enough for me to be there. And then the (county) mayor in his response is basically calling the protesters thugs. ... I don’t appreciate that.”

Should Rogersville residents be concerned about violence erupting during your protest?

Rashad: “We ain’t bombing nothing. We ain’t burning nothing. We ain’t looting nothing. If we wanted to burn stuff down, we’ve been marching for five weeks. We would have already burned Johnson City down if that was the case. We would have burned Volunteer Pawn down that night, but we’ve not burned, looted or damaged a single stitch of property.”

What would you hope to accomplish by protesting in Rogersville?

Rashad: “I’d like to make sure people understand, you don’t have to paint us in a certain way. You can actually sit down and talk to people. Half of these militias that are out here in the mountains talking about they’re ready for a race war, if they actually sat down and talked to organizations like mine, and several of the Black Lives Matter organizations that I know of, they would find out that our views are similar. We want gun rights. We want fair and equal trade. We want higher wages. We want people to be able to live in peace with their own brothers and sisters in their community. These are universal concepts, but when we say it, we’re ‘terrorists’ or we’re ‘socialists.’ ”

How many of your folks are expected to attend the Rogersville event?
Rashad: “I’m not disclosing that number because A) I don’t know and B) because if I say we’re bringing 200 people, they might bring 500. If I say we’re bringing 20 people, they might bring 50. We just made the announcement yesterday (Tuesday), and we’ve had the Volunteer Pawn situation, and we’ve also got two more protests lined up this weekend. I can’t give a concrete number, but I’ll come by myself if that’s what it takes.”

If Friday’s counter-protest hadn’t occurred, would Rogersville even be on your radar?

Rashad: “Absolutely not. The only reason we’re even considering coming down there is the fact that I received multiple messages from people saying, ‘Please help us. They’re not letting us use our voice. They’re intimidating us.’ We’re not coming for trouble. We’re not coming to cause damage or havoc or chaos. But we will defend ourselves, and we will make sure that people understand that. I don’t care who you are or who you’re affiliated with, if I’ve got to sit there and listen to you talk about Trump for an hour, you can sit and listen to me talk about Black Lives Matter.”

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