Late last week, rumors circulated online that a protest would be occurring on the riverfront in Brandenburg on Friday regarding the Confederate monument.
According to Brandenburg Police Chief Brian Haag, officials received information through a social media site that there would possibly be a protest potentially involving vandalism to the monument and the courthouse. Officials created a plan in order to make sure city and county assets were protected. They also notified businesses on Main Street.
“With everything that’s going on across the United States with some of these protests where people are coming out and starting riots and looting, we didn’t want that to happen in our community,” said Haag.
Business owners in downtown Brandenburg, with help from community members, began boarding up their storefronts in order to keep their businesses as safe as possible.
GH&D Construction came downtown and volunteered to board up The Daily Grind Coffee Shop and Deli. Additionally, Rena Singleton, owner of the buildings that house several local businesses, to include the Poetry In Glass Studio, My Old Kentucky Quilting Studio, Hometown Honey Boutique and The Farmer’s Daughter Salon, organized both help and supplies so those storefronts, and therefore her renters, would be protected. There were easily over a dozen people downtown to help get it secure for the possible coming events.
Concrete barriers were placed along the border of the monument, and the various statues in sitting areas along the riverfront were removed by city workers.
Additionally, many Meade Countians, and a few non-local groups, organized in order to protect both the monument and the storefronts. Many of these individuals were armed and seemed more than prepared to take on whatever might come. For some, the sight of so many people coming down to protect part of their town was inspiring. There was plenty of chatter from those in attendance that they had never seen anything like this before, and it was amazing how citizens of the county would come together to protect their own. For other attendees, it made for a tense situation once they realized some of those armed individuals were drinking alcohol.
The protest would allegedly begin at 9 p.m., and the riverfront area began filling up with people in the early afternoon.
Just after 9 p.m., a small group of protestors arrived on scene, with some carrying signs that said “Long live the innocent” and “Black lives matter.”
Austin Williams, 17, of Guston, was among the group of protestors. Williams says that her plans were to bring awareness to the BLM movement.
“Brandenburg is such a small town that I was actually surprised that there was anything even related to protests going on,” said Williams. “So, I took the opportunity to try and talk about my views as well as listen to other views. …One of the bigger messages was just that people of color need help, and people need to realize that. They need our support, and I’m glad I can use my rights to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Williams says she also wanted to show that protests don’t have to be violent.
“It can be civil, but it has to be from both sides. And with what was shown on Friday, they really didn’t like the fact that we were there, and they tried their hardest to get us all riled up so we could start things.”
Williams says that she feels the night went better than people thought it would.
“They expected us to head down there and try to destroy the statue, although that obviously wasn’t why we headed down there,” said Williams. “The guns we were met with were extremely intimidating and pretty terrifying. A lot of the people on the ‘statue’s side’ didn’t really listen to what we had to say. Most of them were just yelling hateful and degrading things, commenting on our appearances and other things.”
Williams claims she was hit with a few water bottles that a former teacher threw at her and her mother.
However, Williams also acknowledged that she was able to have civil discussions with some of the group gathered by the river as well.
“Once those who were there just to be hateful left, we had a lot of civil and very informing conversations,” said Williams. “No screaming, no hateful language. There was a lot of understanding of our views from both sides, and I think that was definitely my favorite part of the night.”
Williams says she plans on participating in more community discussions about the issues she raised.
Milton Santos, a local resident who has been a police officer in Louisville for the past 16 years, was among a group of individuals that stood between the protestors and the large crowd in order to ensure things stayed safe. He says he wanted to ensure that what happened in Louisville didn’t happen here locally. Following the event, he posted a video to Facebook recounting his experience and describing several positive interactions he observed or participated in.
“Yes, there was a lot of emotion last night, a lot of anger, and truthfully, there was quite a bit of vulgarity coming from, honestly, a handful of locals,” said Santos in the video. “Ninety percent of the folks that showed up were there solely to protect property from being damaged. …If you weren’t there, don’t paint Meade County as a bad place to live. My kids are biracial, and they love it here. I’m black, and not once have I ever had an issue with a Meade County resident.”
Chief Haag says he felt the night, overall, was peaceful.
“The protestors that did show up, they were able to be there, they were able to say what they needed to say,” said Haag. “Nothing got destroyed or damaged. We feel pretty good about how things went. We really appreciate the community coming forward and showing their support, and I think that made a huge difference.”
No arrests were made Friday, and only one physical altercation took place involving an individual in a vehicle and a group on the riverfront.
Photos by Seth Dukes