Except for a few loud trucks driving past the mostly closed businesses, Marion’s Friday morning started out quiet.
Even the businesses that were open planned to close early for the holiday weekend. A few owners, too, expressed concerns about plans for later in the afternoon, when several protests were planned for the downtown area.
Hayden’s World owner Terry Hayden said he hasn’t seen anything like what is going on in Marion in his 28 years on Main Street.
“All this happening to a sleepy little town,” he said. “I’m just playing it by ear.”
Hayden said he planned to stay open through the heart of the protests and close up shop at 5 p.m. A group of motorcyclists rolled into town just before noon. At 1 p.m., the first rally, aimed at celebrating the Fourth, was scheduled for the courthouse lawn. A rally and march at the farmers market was slated to begin at 4 p.m.
Greg Armstrong planned to keep his Iron Street Mall barbershop Just For Men open all day as well, saying he wasn’t worried about the planned protests that brought in a serious police presence. He wasn’t sure if it would be possible, though, saying he had heard that the mall might be a staging area for some of the activities. Armstrong’s shop is close to the farmers market pavilion, where the Black Lives Matter group was slated to gather at 4 p.m.
Macado’s restaurant was open all day. The Wooden Pickle restaurant was open for lunch until 2 p.m. and planned to re-open for dinner at 4:30 p.m.
On Friday morning, Brad Mullen at the Army Navy Store was busy helping customers, but he was wary of what was coming.
Other downtown shops made plans to close early. Laurel Springs Farm Store closed for the holiday at noon. Tangles hair salon shut its doors at 11 a.m., and Past Times Antique Emporium planned to remain open until 2 p.m.
By mid-morning law enforcement from the state, county, town and surrounding areas – including deputies from the Washington County and Wythe County sheriff’s offices and officers from Saltville, Abingdon and Bristol police departments, the ATF and Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute – were making their presence known on Main Street at the farmers market.
By 1:20 p.m., police were setting up barricades on Main Street, intending to keep safe distance between the competing rallies.
The heavy police presence comes after weeks of heightened tensions, much of it spurred on by Facebook posts.
Residents took to social media platforms to voice concerns after a June 13 march ended with tension between the protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and counter-protesters who had collected on the courthouse lawn to protect the Confederate statue there.
After the July 3 rally was announced, simmering hostility grew into threats of violence on social media, with some from both sides indicating that weapons may be brought to the gatherings.
The strife kept at least one marcher away.
Marion resident Robynn Anderson made the mile-and-a-half march from the market to the Ingles parking lot on June 13.
“I marched last time because while I don’t think we have a police brutality issue here, I do think we have some race-related issues, and I was glad to see it brought up,” she said. “I thought it would lead to discussions and eventually some changes.”
Anderson said she supports the movement and was happy to have taken part on June 13 but wasn’t there on Friday.
“I’ve seen too many threats online,” she said. “I’m going to have to sit this one out.”
Marion Police Chief John Clair said on Thursday that law enforcement has investigated and interviewed just about everyone who has made a serious threat on social media.
Earlier this morning, about two dozen area residents gathered at the Farmer's Market pavilion to pray. After an initial prayer led by several pastors of varying denominations, the group walked up Main Street to the courthouse where they again united in prayer.
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