Face-off: Protest, counter-protest

Organizer Jamie Rellstab of Pinedale prepares to put up lists of names of black people killed in police actions.

Rallies in Pinedale remain peaceful

More than 70 people gathered at the Pinedale

Courthouse lawn on June 4 to demonstrate against the death

of George Floyd, an African American who died while being

arrested by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Excitement and anticipation heightened the mood as people

prepared signs and donned facemasks.

Across the street, tension and suspicion radiated from

about a dozen people sporting American flags, mostly men

and mostly armed, who stood silently to watch for any sign of

trouble. Pinedale resident and veteran Michael Edison called

them the “Pinedale Patriot Group.”

In between the two groups that looked to be facing a

standoff, Edison, a veteran, patriotically dressed and carrying a

tall American flag, rode his Arab mare back and forth to check

on people’s moods and conversations.

Edison described the group as a “counter protest” and

“guardians for our community” to respond if the courthouse

lawn rally turned violent. The Pinedale Patriot Group was not

affiliated with any national organization.

Other than isolated verbal exchanges, the rallies remained

peaceful. No injuries, looting or property destruction took

place during the two hours the groups gathered. The Sublette

County Sheriff’s Office maintained a presence and did not

intervene.

A college student home in Pinedale, Jamie Rellstab wanted

to organize an event in Floyd’s memory. Friends with the

Robert Galbreath photo

Michael Edison of Pinedale rides between

demonstrators and counter demonstrators on

Thursday, June 4.

Joy Ufford photo

Counter-protesters from left, Tristan, John, a man who wouldn’t give his name, Fisher Vance, Bang Johnson, Dustin, Joseph Madsen, Steven Smith and Robert

Binning stand together on the west side of Pine Street.

Joy Ufford photo

Organizer Jamie Rellstab of Pinedale prepares to put up lists of names of black people killed in police actions.

Women’s Advocacy Group and others urged her to consider a

peaceful protest on behalf of Black Lives Matter.

Wyoming Advocacy Group member Genavieve White

distributed her pamphlets titled “How to be an Ally,” for white

people who want to voice their own anger at police violence

against blacks and other nonwhites.

“Remember that this is not about you,” it begins. “You do

not know what it’s like to be black; no experience you’ve had

can compare. Black people are not required to educate you. …

Raising up black lives changes how the country approaches

human dignity. Elevating the lowest treated groups elevates

us all.”

Planning

Rellstab planned the event to be a “peaceful and educational”

show of solidarity with other nonviolent protests across the

country demanding justice and reform in the wake of Floyd’s

death.

“I wanted to be out here in support with the rest of the

nation and people of color … and show them that Pinedale is

in this with them,” she added.

Rellstab consulted with “people that participated in previous

marches and some people of color in Pinedale” to organize the

event.

“Look at this huge turnout,” she said. “That shows that

people here care. I don’t think a lot of voices are being heard

so people are out here and making a change. That’s really all

I wanted.”

During the rally, Rellstab thanked people for coming and

read a prayer written by The Rev. Melinda Bobo, Rector at St.

Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church in Pinedale.

Why protest?

Several demonstrators discussed the factors

that led them to participate in the rally.

“Our lives matter when we share who we

are and that we care about our communities,”

said Jami Anderson, of Pinedale. “I agree that

white silence equals white violence. I need to

speak out.”

“I think it’s important that racism be

acknowledged in the United States – that is

the way we can hit it head on and start to

make change,” said Joni Mack, of Pinedale.

“It needs to be from every person in this

country to eliminate racism, all the way to the

government. We need to see some action.”

Kathy Sandmeier, of Boulder, said Floyd’s

death hit close to home.

“I’m here in support of Black Lives

Matter,” she explained. “I’ve got family

members that are African American and it’s

really important to me that all my nieces and

nephews grow up to have a socially just and

equal world to live in.”

Casey Key, of Pinedale, stood on the

edge of the sidewalk, holding a sign with

the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to

justice everywhere.”

I’m 21 years old and I grew up in

Pinedale,” he said. “As a person of color, I

believe it’s important to stand together with

our brothers to remember the lives that we

have lost and to try and enact change so that

this does not happen again. I believe there

shouldn’t be murder without repercussion.”

Pinedale patriots

Around two dozen individuals gathered

to hear Edison’s message. He opened with

a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Edison stated that he respected the other

demonstrator’s rights to free speech, but

emphasized the need to prevent violence

and property damage that accompanied

demonstrations in some cities.

“We’re here to make sure that this doesn’t

devolve into anything that we’ve seen across

the country,” he said.

Edison stated that many of the

demonstrators on the courthouse lawn were

nonresidents.

“This area’s one of the least racist places

I have ever lived,” he said. “My question to

them is why are (the demonstrators) here.”

Several people approached Edison,

accusing him of being a racist, he said. He

related stories about hiding Zimbabwean

refugees during the last decade of white rule

in South Africa.

“Black lives do matter,” he said. “I risked

my life to save those black lives. There’s no

argument as far as George Floyd goes. We all

agree those were bad times. But I don’t know

why they’re here.”

Pinedale resident Bill Johnson waved a

large American flag in front of the courthouse.

“We’re going to start standing up for the

Trump side of things, the good side of things,”

he said. “This has gone on long enough. It’s

out of hand. New York City is in turmoil

again. It’s terrible and we’ve got to stop it.”

Across the street, a man from Boulder

wishing to be identified as “just Phillip” held

up his American flag.

“I don’t think that just black lives matter,” he

said. “I think all lives matter. I think Black Lives

Matter in its name is inherently racist because

it’s calling out a single race, not all races.”

Among the men standing on Pine and N.

Fremont streets, automatic rifles at their side,

was Stephen Smith, of Boulder, who stated he

showed up armed “to protect my community.”

“We’re not going to be unchallenged,” he

added. “Keep our society free and peaceful.

Don’t destroy our town over something you

see on TV. Everyone has a right to protest

peacefully, but you don’t have a right to riot

and loot.”

“Sometimes you’ve got to practice one

right to defend all your other rights,” said

Joseph Madsen, of Daniel.

Open debate

Pinedale graduate Liam Fallon walked

along the Mill Street sidewalk on the

courthouse side, engaging people in

conversation about Black Lives Matter and

police violence against blacks.

One person who questioned him about the

peaceful protest was Bob Dexter, who said

he feared a protest on behalf of Black Lives

Matter could draw negative attention to his

multiracial family that has found nothing but

acceptance in Pinedale.

“My problem is you say (on Facebook)

Pinedale needs fixing,” Dexter told Fallon.

“When you post something like that you stir

up a bunch of crap here – who does it come

back on?”

He agreed that the killing of George Floyd

by a policeman “was wrong.”

Dexter continued, “You bring a group

like Black Lives Matter, which I consider to

be a terrorist group. … When you adopt that

symbol, you get the baggage that comes with

it.”

Fallon said, “Black Lives Matter is not

an organization. It’s a movement. There’s a

difference. And if we don’t do something to

solve this (police brutality) how can we call

ourselves Americans?”

Dexter continued to watch and listen

from a corner of the lawn. Later, an angry

man identified as “Steve” walked up and

immediately accosted Fallon, Dexter and

Marine and Rev. Randy Belton, who is

black. They tried to reason with Steve,

who screamed threats and obscenities that

included calling everyone on the lawn “total

frauds.”

Edison rode over and moved the angry

man away as he threatened to post everyone’s

pictures on Facebook.

John, “Bang” Johnson and others, on

their guard and alert, admitted the event was

peaceful but watched for anything that might

change that. When asked if they wanted to

intimidate by wearing weapons in a setting

that looked like a standoff, they shrugged.

That night, their goal was to keep the

peace, Johnson said. “I don’t have a problem

with it; I’m making sure it doesn’t turn into

a riot. I promise it will not be this side that

starts it.”

As the rally ended and the armed men

watched from across the street, Jamie Rellstab

was thrilled with how the evening turned out

as the group gathered its signs and posters.

“I knew the people here were going to be

peaceful,” she said. “I wanted a discussion.

Some people were able to have those

discussions and I’m really proud of that.”

Standing with the patriots, Steve ducked

out and yelled, “Pick up your trash!”

“We are,” said her brother and co-organizer

Jack Rellstab.

And with that, the grassroots rally cleared

away, the men across the street staying until

after dark.

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