BRISTOL, Tenn. — Rain poured down Saturday afternoon as roughly 40 protesters, wearing plastic rain ponchos, holding umbrellas or carrying signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” or “White Silence = Violence,” marched peacefully along State Street.
Bristol Tennessee Police and Bristol Virginia Police officers stationed themselves along their respective sides of Bristol’s main downtown corridor, watching as protesters walked by shouting chants such as “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
The New Panther Initiative, a Johnson City-based organization affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, held the march through downtown Bristol, Tennessee, to protest against racism and police violence. The protest started around 2:10 p.m. in the parking lot of the YWCA of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and participants marched down State Street to the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and then turned around and returned to the YWCA parking lot around 3:15 p.m.
According to a post on the Reddit page r/tricities, the event, titled “Blue Lives Do Not Exist: A Protest on Police Brutality,” was originally planned as a counterprotest to a pro-police rally organized by the Bristol Virginia Republican Committee. However, the committee announced last Wednesday in a Facebook post that organizers decided to cancel the event because of concerns about potential violence from counterprotesters.
“We are one race, the human race, we cannot be divided by color,” a man who declined to give his name shouted through a megaphone when the marchers briefly stopped at the corner of State Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
When protesters weren’t chanting slogans such as “No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA,” many laughed and joked with each other. Some drivers honked their horns in support as they passed by.
Though police mostly stayed back, there were moments when protesters and officers bridged the gap. Toward the beginning of the event, a protester made a statement about the importance of mental health and told attendees to say “I love you” to someone standing nearby, whether they were a protester or a police officer. Immediately afterward, a BTPD officer approached that protester and shook his hand. On another occasion, a BTPD officer stood and listened while a protester explained his viewpoint on policing.
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