I’ve hesitated to write anything about the recent protests taking place across the nation, including here in Branson.
As a white man who has spent most of his life in areas that are not terribly diverse, I don’t feel especially qualified to weigh in on the larger issues at work.
But I know what I saw when I covered the protest last Saturday in downtown Branson. I saw dozens of people –mostly young, mostly white – who were impassioned about what they see as an unjust law enforcement system.
My experience was that everyone was polite, respectful and peaceful. Same for a much smaller protest the week before.
The Branson Police Department agreed. Here is the their statement on Facebook afterward:
Today, members of our community exercised their 1st Amendment Constitutional rights of freedom of speech in downtown Branson. No incidents of violence or violation of the law were reported.
Although many rumors were spread that groups who have participated in unlawful riots elsewhere were coming to Branson, this did not happen. Branson Police were present to keep all of our community members safe.
Branson Police would like to thank our community members who were clearly passionate about justice but honored the fact that all individuals present had a right to free speech, even when it was contradictory. The Branson community represented themselves in an exemplary fashion; the motoring public was safe and respectful.
And the Branson Police Department deserves credit, as well. Chief Jeff Matthews was downtown talking personally with the protesters. There was another officer with him keeping an eye on things. I saw at least one other officer driving through the area on occasion. I hope everyone can appreciate their dedication to keeping everyone safe.
Those of you on Facebook might have seen a video shot by new Branson Alderman Jeff Seay of a man who arrived at the protests wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt. He said some things to the protesters (“I’m proud to be white,” for instance), and protesters said some words back (“You matter, sir. We care about you,” for instance). He appeared to give a Nazi salute. The video clearly shows a Branson Police officer near the scene, keeping an eye on the entire exchange – doing his job and doing it well.
I didn’t see this incident in person, but looking at the video, it appears everyone kept their heads and behaved appropriately. (Well, the Nazi salute was not appropriate, but no one got hurt.)
There are three final points I wanted to get to.
1. In the Branson Police Department’s comment about the protests, they referenced rumors about potential violence. If you don’t know what that’s about, many individuals were happy to spread gossipy rumors on social media that bus loads of unsavory brutes were on their way to Branson to wreak havoc on our town. There was never any evidence of that, and it never came to pass. I’ll never understand how these types of social media rumors get going.
2.After I left, a woman showed up with an ACAB sign. Had she been there when I was, I would have asked her what those letters meant to her. From what I understand, one possible meaning is “All Colors Are Beautiful,” which is nice. But there is another possible meaning, which she would have every right to express, but I won’t print here.
3.By the time you read this, there might have been more protests. If so, I hope it went well. Even if it did not, it won’t change that on Saturday, June 6, 2020, in downtown Branson, I saw a group of private citizens, and our town’s police department, do Branson proud.