Opinion: What I experienced at the protest yesterday

By Seth Dukes

I went to downtown Brandenburg early Friday morning to take photographs of the storefronts being boarded up and concrete blocks being placed in front of the monument. People in the community came together to make sure that the businesses would not be damaged. I was skeptical that any sort of “demolition” crew was going to be coming into the county, but I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry, and I don’t have the intel that the police have. It was nice to see Meade Countians volunteering to help small businesses downtown, but it wasn't surprising. That's the kind of behavior I've come to expect from people since moving here.

I left to grab some lunch and investigate a couple of other stories I am working on. I headed back down to the river at about 5:30 p.m.

When I arrived, I was having trouble with the flash for my camera. I picked a bench across from a yard sale that was taking place and sat down, fiddling for a while and trying to make sure I’d be able to create ample light later in the day.

There was a group of armed “anti-protestors” behind me, a term that I’m going to put in quotations because everyone seems to be using it, but I find it to be a silly term. No one should try to deter protesting. Deter violence and destruction, but protesting is a right that we have as Americans.

As I sat there, the people behind me cat called women as they drove by, used racial slurs, and some drank alcohol.

Suddenly, a car drove by, and one of the passengers was holding a sign out of the window and yelling something to the effect of “You lost the war.” This really upset the people who were allegedly totally fine with peaceful protesting. They returned fire, calling the person names and telling them to “Get out of the car.” It was clear to me that they wanted something physical to happen.

As the car went by, a white jeep in front of it stopped and the car couldn’t move. When this happened, the people behind me ran up to the car, and ultimately, someone reached in and got physical with the passenger. I saw lots of people that were “there to ensure it was peaceful” standing and watching the altercation take place. The jeep finally moved, and the car escaped.

Strong words were exchanged by both sides. Regardless of what was said, it is never okay to respond to words with physical violence. Ever. Not only is it illegal, it’s also something you should have learned when you were five years old.

I witnessed the entire ordeal firsthand. I know exactly what happened. There were Meade Countians in that car. Your neighbors. Those there to “keep things peaceful” stood idly by and watched a physical altercation take place. The rhetoric of “a few bad apples” fails miserably here because none of the supposed “good apples” did anything to stop it. 

As 9 p.m., the alleged time of the protest, grew nearer and nearer, I walked around to take some photos of the crowd since there were no protestors on site yet. While I was doing this, I was threatened with legal action for taking someone’s photo on public property, compared to the devil, told to “Get the f*** out of here, press,” and generally accosted simply because I wore a shirt that said “PRESS” and I was taking photos. I saw several armed individuals casually drinking beers. I am a gun owner, and one of the first things I was taught was that alcohol and guns do not mix. I felt very uncomfortable knowing that I was around armed people who were drinking alcohol, so I left the area.

Up the hill, things were much different. Pizza was being passed out, people were checking out license plates for possible out-of-county visitors, and I didn’t see a single alcoholic beverage.

Finally, some protestors arrived. A handful of people gathered to speak and hold signs. I got between them and those on the riverfront there to “protect the statue.”

As I was between them taking pictures, I heard some truly offensive and awful things coming from “our side.” They were using words like “retarded,” a word that should never, EVER, be used as an insult and a word that makes me feel uncomfortable just typing it. One individual even insulted a protestor’s weight. The protestor insinuated that the individual used to be her teacher at DTW. I sincerely hope that this is not true, and if it is, I hope that the individual no longer teaches in Meade County. I do not want our future generations to be taught by an unabashed bully.

Some armed individuals and police were protecting the protestors from the angry people gathered by the river. Thank god. I’m very confident that, had they not been there protecting them, things would have gotten physical almost instantly. Ryan Lane and the group around him were an absolute godsend to this community from what I saw.

It was obvious to me at that time that none of the people protesting had any intention to tear down the monument, nor did they have the means.

As I was between the groups, I felt trash hit me in the head. Luckily, it was just an empty plastic bottle, but it could have been a glass beer bottle. It could have been a rock. It came from “our side.”

Meade County was worried about outsiders coming in to destroy the monument. They should have been worried about outsiders coming in to destroy our reputation. We were worried about violent protestors coming in from outside the county, and that’s exactly what we got, just not coming from the side we presumed. We ushered and encouraged these people to “lock and load” already expecting the worst from the event.

I wish I could say that only the out of towners were belligerent, but I can’t. People from our community that I recognized were representing Meade County in an awful way, and they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They weren’t counter protesting; they were bullying people.

To those that showed up to share their messages like “black lives matter” and “long live the innocent” as they had written on their signs, I commend you. You showed immense bravery last night. I apologize for those that called you obscene names and threw debris at you. I could not have done what you did.

To those that showed up to legitimately protect the businesses and the protestors, you are all an asset to our community. You, along with the police presence, prevented what would have inevitably been a physical confrontation in my opinion last night.

As for those that acted like children, both from here and abroad, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I heard many people screaming “Get the f*** out, we don’t want you in our town!” If two signs that say “long live the innocent” and “black lives matter” inspire you to call people names and throw trash, then it’s you that I don’t want in my town. Those are not radical, far-left ideologies. Those are stances that every citizen in the United States should stand behind.

My job is not to make Meade County look good. My job is to tell people what happened. I refuse to whitewash my experience yesterday because it reflects badly on the county that I live in. I will not be intimidated into ignoring my journalistic ethics so that people don’t have to face the music and take responsibility for what they encouraged and allowed. You can choose not to believe my experience, but what reason do I have to lie? I don't enjoy writing things like this. I enjoy writing uplifting articles about strong community values, interesting people, and new ventures by community members. I would have loved to have went home and felt great about how the event went, but that's just simply not what happened.

Almost all of the people I’ve encountered in the last year since I moved here have been honest, helpful, caring people. Last night, I saw a side of Meade County that I hadn’t seen before, and I hope I never see it again.

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