LANCASTER – Streets leading into downtown Lancaster were shut down Wednesday evening ahead of potentially large protests.
However, unlike previous weeks, smaller crowds gathered at Zane Square and Fountain Square, still with the common messages of either supporting local law enforcement or the Black Lives Matter movement.
Despite the smaller gathering, the goals for both groups remained the same.
Clarence McKittrick, of Lithopolis, stood with Terry McKittrick and others in Zane Square at the General Sherman statue.
“(We’re here) to protect what we’ve got,” Clarence McKittrick said. “People don’t have the right to come in here and tear this stuff up.”
Terry, who attended the demonstration on Aug. 19, and others in the Zane Square area could be seen holding firearms while standing near the Sherman Statue.
No damage was caused to the statue during the Aug. 19 gathering.
“The reason it didn’t happen is because we were here,” he said. “That’s the same reason why it won’t happen (Wednesday night) is because we are here.”
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the street, Derrick Blakey, of Lancaster, was one of the first BLM supporters to arrive Wednesday. He said he came to the demonstration to speak out on police brutality and racism.
“My message is to make sure that everybody knows,” Blakey said. “People can choose to look away but nobody can say that they’re not aware of what’s going on. I just wanted to let everybody know what people’s been dealing with for years. Not just my people, just people in general.”
Blakey said he has attended several protests and gatherings over the last few weeks, including the Aug. 19 protest in Downtown Lancaster.
“Initially I felt like all of this was suppressed emotions. Now it’s starting to get some light, and over time it seems like it’s blatant racism with no filter at all,” Blakey said. “I just want to be treated the same. I feel like a lot of people are looking at this group that I was standing with last week, thinking that Black folks and people of color want to be treated better when that’s not the case. We just want the same thing. That’s all it is.”
Lancaster resident Joe Graf took a different approach compared to the two main groups, holding signs that read “Back the Blue” and “Black Lives Matter.”
“I’m just trying to send a message that we can absolutely back our law enforcement while advocating equal liberty and justice for all,” Graf said. “It’s not all-or-nothing for either side. As Republicans, we are advocates for freedom and liberty, and we should support any freedom and liberty movement that exists in our communities, while also backing our law enforcement, making sure they have the training they need and the resources they need.”
Apart from the two main groups, a worship gathering also took place near the bandstand as citizens prayed for unity and compassion.
In fact, Kelsey Crenshaw, a pastor at Beautiful Gates of Zion in Reynoldsburg, attempted to bring all three groups together for prayer.
“What I’m here for and what I’m here to say is, can we get along today?” Crenshaw asked. “We have an opportunity to break down walls and break down barriers. We have an opportunity to work together… the man in blue, the woman in blue, the Black man, the white man, the red man – if we can, come together and show some kind of support for one another, some kind of love for one another.”
Mike Borland, of Lancaster, also attended Wednesday’s demonstration to call for peace between citizens. Borland brought a full-scale cross with a sign reading “Pray for Revival.”
“There’s not as many people here to protest, but there’s a whole lot of people here to pray and that’s really what I’m all about,” he said. “The sign is just an advertisement for that, for other Christians to come. It’s not a formal movement, but other Christians come as they feel led to pray.”
The gatherings were mostly peaceful until approximately just 7 p.m. when an altercation occurred between two men in front of the former Downtown Bistro.
The Lancaster Police Department took precautionary measures after larger crowds took to Zane Square and Fountain Square to protest over the past few weeks. Main St. was closed from Memorial Drive to High St., while Broad St. was closed from Walnut to Chestnut St.