Black Lives Matter Protests Continue Amidst Opposition, Altercations

Jun 12, 2020

It's a hot, sunny day as Black Lives Matter protesters stand at a busy intersection in Laramie. It's during one of the daily protests in town that began in early June.

They're chanting as a red pick-up comes towards them driving down the wrong side of the road. A young white man stands in the bed holding a large Trump 2020 flag. Several protesters attempt to block it, but the truck moves forward slowly and hits them, pushing them backwards. More protesters come to surround the truck.

An onlooker thinks she's about to witness a murder. The Laramie Police Department is now investigating the incident.

Armed, pro-Trump counter-protesters have become a part of the Black Lives Matter story in communities across Wyoming including Cody, Lander, Gillette, Laramie, Cheyenne, and Casper.

In Gillette, at one march, trucks drove past protesters repeatedly revving their engines and blowing exhaust; a common tactic amongst counter-protesters.

Later, police officers had to stand between the two sides who faced each other yelling. Counter-protesters waved American and Trump flags at the other side yelling "Go Home," "Blue Lives Matter," and "You're Stupid." The other side yelled back "Black Lives Matter."

At one point, a white woman yells the N-word at a woman of color.

The groups around the state don't claim to be organized. A few in Gillette mentioned they were part of the anti-government militia three-percenters, but otherwise, nothing. Many say they want to keep the peace.

Video of a Black Lives Matter rally in Gillette recently Credit: Catherine Wheeler

That was the case in Lander, where vigilantes stood in front of Jenny Reeves-Johnson's art gallery. Several held assault rifles, another a sledgehammer swinging it occasionally. Reeves-Johnson said she didn't feel safe enough to even enter her own business.

"It was life changing to be in front of people with guns like that," she said. "Then the next day finding out that they were there to protect my business, I got angry instead of scared. I got amazingly angry. I just thought, what?" she said.

In Laramie, the counter-protesters have become well-known for driving past the march each day, revving engines and once sitting in the bed of a truck holding assault rifles. One even got out of his truck and pulled a gun in an altercation; Black Lives Matter protesters were driving towards him as they both started yelling. He yelled, "Get out of here, bitch!"

Black Lives Matter protesters in a truck next to him yelled through a megaphone, "Go home!"

One of a collection of posts urging Laramie residents to avoid confrontation with counter protestors.
Credit Emily Madden

Some Laramie Black Lives Matters protesters say it was not a good example of de-escalation and urge each other to ignore counter protesters going forward.

Preparation

A staging ground for counter protesters in Laramie is at the old K-mart parking lot. A group of about 10 white people are gathered, saying they're just a group of friends with no formal affiliation. Like the counter-protesters in Lander, they say they're there partially for protection. Cody Buzzell leans on his motorcycle.

"They wanted a peaceful protest and to me a peaceful protest's them staying on the sidewalk, staying off the street. So, right there that made us even more angry," he said.

Armed counter-protesters driving through Laramie.
Credit Anna Schwyter

Buzzell feels Black Lives Matter protesters are also disrespecting the flag.

"By flying it upside down," he said. "That there right hits hard on home."

Matthew Davis said their group has been spit at and flipped off. He believes, sure, Black lives matter, but that all lives matter as is written on one of the trucks. Davis said they have a right to be out there too but acknowledges their presence is intimidating.

"Yes, they all see it as threatening every one of them," Davis said.

"They have every right to be scared," Buzzell said.

"But you still want to carry [a gun]," I asked. Buzzell says, "Yeah."

"If you want to look at the big picture, man, there's 1,000 people at this thing. And there's maybe 30 of us," said Davis.

The March

Down the road from the old K-Mart, hundreds of protesters are in the street making their way up Grand Avenue, though the Laramie Police Department has urged citizens to walk on the sidewalks. All of a sudden, a young white man in his work clothes jumps out of his truck next to the march and starts screaming at protesters.

"You guys are gonna be disrespectful like that. Fuck you guys, you're wearing a fucking flag on your fucking face, fuck you," he said.

"Keep walking," protesters say.

"Fuck you and this fucking piece of shit protest," he went on. "Fucking people working and you guys are blocking the goddamn road!"

Lead organizer for the Black Lives Matter march Timberly Vogel watched the whole thing unfold.

"We're inhibiting traffic flow for a few minutes. And there's also like 20 other blocks in this town. But that's what gets scary. You know, when people are so upset at seeing a demonstration of democracy where they will get out and verbally abuse someone," she said.

A post is being shared throughout Laramie advising protesters not to engage with counter protesters- that it's putting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) at risk.

Vogel said it's clear counter-protesters are looking to intimidate, but it actually comes off as them being scared.

A passing truck to one of the daily Black Lives Matter protests.
Credit Cooper McKim

"I mean, obviously, you know, a peaceful protest to be met with AR-15s. I mean, signs versus guns. I know that they are scared and uncomfortable," she said. "They're trying to show their strength and design a force because they feel that their power is threatened. And so I'm really glad that they feel that because I want to threaten their power."

Not personally, she said, but the system of power.

Vogel said the "all lives matter" or "blue lives matter" slogans miss the mark.

"It's just really sort of skewed the point of Black Lives Matter because it wasn't ever that any other lives don't matter anywhere. It was to highlight a disproportionate amount of injustice is being done towards brown and black bodies," she said.

Black people are more than twice as likely to be killed than white people by cops, according to the research and advocacy organization Mapping Police Violence.

Vogel said the fact that there's so much opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement shows these marches just need to continue.

Savannah Maher and Catherine Wheeler contributed to this story. Video sound was also pulled from Mike Vanata.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.