Court Street was lined with people Sunday afternoon as two large groups holding rallies clashed.
One rally began at the Athens County Courthouse. A Facebook event, entitled “Defend the Police”, was created by John Haney, who works in Emergency Medical Services. Haney said he wanted to hold a pro-police rally in response to the topic of defunding police departments becoming a national conversation. Haney said that in his career, he works with law enforcement on a daily basis.
“We wanted to hold a peaceful rally to let them know they’re not alone,” he said. Haney called for more funding to be allocated for law enforcement agencies to go toward training officers more extensively.
Soon after the event was created on Facebook, a counter-rally was created by the group Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Ohio. The counter-rally was called “Defend Our Community – Athens in Solidarity with Black Lives.” Event co-organizer Andrea Reany, an Athens County resident, said that she and others have formed a small team to collect data about law enforcement agencies in Athens County, which is compiled in a website: https://athenscountypolicingdata.wordpress.com/.
The website is still under development, as the group is waiting on the county’s law enforcement agencies to respond to their public records requests. So far, the group has received several documents from the Athens City Police Department and a few from Ohio University Police Department, but is awaiting information from Nelsonville Police Department, Hocking College Police Department and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office.
“Defend the Police” rally attendees held signs or wore clothing or accessories with the “thin blue line,” a symbol of support for law enforcement agencies. Others waved flags or sported American flag-themed apparel.
The “Defend Our Community” rally met first at the College Green, where speakers talked to the crowd about their experiences with racism and memorialized the lives of Black people who have been killed by law enforcement around the nation. The “Defend Our Community” group then marched down Court Street to stand on the opposite side of the street as the “Defend the Police” rally, taking a knee and raising a fist, shouting the chant “Black Lives Matter.”
In response, many members of the “Defend the Police” group recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Protest chants from both rallies filled Court Street, but a few motorcyclists revved their engines in front of the BLM protesters, riding past the group a few times.
Republican State Representative Jay Edwards attended the “Defend the Police” rally. Edwards commented about the rally on his State Representative Facebook page later that day.
“I attended a Defend the Police Rally at the Athens Courthouse,” he said. “The turnout was amazing. The people in support of the police were of all walks of life. Democrats, Republicans, Men, Women, Black, White, Etc.”
During the event, Edwards was seen speaking to rally attendees without wearing a mask, and in response, attendees of the SURJ-organized rally shouted, “where’s your mask?”
When Edwards attempted to leave the rally, he was followed by protesters, who shouted as he made his way to his vehicle. A few Athens City Police officers walked over to escort Edwards to his car.
“I was spit on, bumped into, and had liquids and bottles thrown at me. I even heard one person mention that the masks were being worn to protect their identities. These cowards didn’t worry me, but was happy to have the police there just in case. They did help in not allowing them to surround my car,” Edwards said in a social media post that included a video of him walking to his vehicle as he was leaving the rally. “It was quite odd to realize I just recently helped a few of the people saying ‘F*** Jay Edwards’ with their unemployment last week. I guess they were okay with me when they needed my help. Similar to the police, they hate them until they need them. The irony.”
A commenter on that post inquired that perhaps Edwards did not help those individuals get their unemployment.
“[Y]ou’re right. People would have had to actually worked to earn unemployment,” Edwards wrote. He later commented that statement was “a joke,” and that he has assisted every person who has contacted him about their unemployment claims.
The Athens NEWS was unable to reach Edwards for comment on the event.