FORT PLAIN — A day-long protest of over a dozen individuals in downtown Haslett Park Saturday went off largely without a hitch until the crowd dispersed around 5 p.m., at which point a small group wearing KKK-emblazoned clothing showed up.
Stated protester Danielle Van Patten, “As soon as we left, we saw pictures that they were here,” in Haslett Park, “So, we came back to protest.”
Event Organizer Mason Rogers said that upon receiving a text stating that potential KKK members were gathering downtown, “I drove here as fast as I could.”
Upon arrival, Rogers saw a crowd gathered in the parking lot adjacent to the park, witnessing an escalating argument between protesters and those sporting KKK-regalia. Rogers asserted to the crowd, “This isn’t our message! We need to spread love, not hate.” That, he said, “got some of them to leave,” with Rogers then effectively encouraging the protesters to walk away chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
“There was only a handful of them,” said Rogers of those speaking out in opposition of the protesters, several members of the group placing KKK-promoting stickers on items throughout the area.
Said VanPatten of a metal pole on the corner of River and Willett streets where a KKK recruitment sticker remained Saturday evening — which she adamantly tried to scratch off — “They’re posting KKK stickers on these. They’re posting them on cars.”
One protester, Tiffany Boyer, stated that a man wearing a KKK shirt chest bumped her and spit twice at her face — once connecting — the incident being recorded on video by another protester and viewed by this reporter.
While the clash between Boyer and the alleged spitter was initially only verbal, she said “Once he spit on me, ‘I was like, let’s go, buddy.’” Boyer alleged that officers from the Fort Plain Police Department saw the altercation “and didn’t do anything about it.” While contacted, Fort Plain Police Chief Ryan Austin could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.
The brief post-protest melee was overseen by the Fort Plain Village Police Department, with their and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (providing mutual aid) vehicles remaining in the vicinity while the protest continued following the departure of those in KKK-emblazoned clothing.
Though the message of the crowd was in opposition of the protesters’ message, those spouting racist rhetoric couldn’t quell the positive vibes spread across the otherwise productive day, according to several protesters.
Said Organizer Michael Medina, “For the most part, it’s been positive,” with several businesses and citizens even supplying protesters with items like water, ice and coffee. Vehicles also regularly honked in support of the group, the size of which fluctuated throughout the day.
“There was one guy who told us he didn’t agree,” with the protesters’ message said Medina, noting that he invited the individual to stop and have a conversation. The person was in a hurry, but told Medina that if somebody wanted to ride with him to Ace Hardware in Palatine Bridge, he would listen to what they had to say.
One protester left with the man, and continued Medina, “When they came back, he dropped her off and I went over to the [vehicle] window and said ‘How do you feel now?
He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I understand now.’”
Aside from two women waving confederate flags and arguing with protesters Saturday afternoon, and a person driving by and brandishing a knife toward the crowd from a vehicle window — both incidents having been recorded by several protesters and viewed by this reporter — Medina said “We got mostly good reactions over bad. And that means a lot to us!”
Early Saturday, Rogers and Medina posted an official Facebook event page for a second protest in Haslett Park, which will take place on Sunday, June 7, beginning at noon, potentially lasting until the park closes at 8:30 p.m.
Tomorrow’s Tri-Village area event will happen in tandem with Black Lives Matter gatherings and protests of systemic and institutionalized racism and police violence across the area and nation, including an afternoon gathering in Amsterdam.
Though those attending Sunday’s protest in the village are encouraged to be spirited in standing up for their beliefs, no violence will be condoned, with Rogers stating, “We have to keep it peaceful. We have to keep our message.”