HAWKINS CO, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tension flared in Hawkins County as the New Panthers Initiative made its way to downtown Rogersville, all in hopes of having a peaceful protest to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Saturday’s rally marks the second consecutive weekend that a Black Lives Matter protest was met with counter-protesters.
Law enforcement was heavy throughout Saturday’s events.
“Peaceful protests are great,” said Hawkins County resident David Cavin. “That’s what this country is made on. No rioting.”
Another Hawkins County local told News Channel 11’s Kristen Gallant that Saturday’s protest was the first he’s ever attended out of curiosity.
“I’ve never been to one,” Frank Gray said. “I thought I would come and see how this goes today.”
Jefferson City and Rogersville Police Department officers were on-scene along with Hawkins County Sheriff’s deputies at Saturday’s rally.
Some officers were spotted sporting riot gear, which included masks and helmets.
“We’re very proud of our law enforcement,” Gray said. “They’re very professional.”
The New Panthers chose to protest in Rogersville for a particular purpose. News Channel 11 spoke to a member who claimed a previous incident brought the group to the little town on Saturday out of support.
“We had an incident that happened over here in Rogersville, and we came here to support him,” said New Panthers Initiative Member, Micah Thompson.
Barriers blocked curious community members along with counter-protesters from the New Panthers, dividing the crowd.
“When you see someone as your mortal enemy, there is no middle ground,” Cavin said. “It used to be you could disagree, and I’d be all right.”
“Most people are angry,” said Christopher Mullins, another New Panthers Initiative member. “Then they calm down, and then they talk and most of these people are talking now at this point.”
Though conversations did spark between the two groups, there were several incidents where officers had to step in, including when the New Panther Initiative members tried to put flowers on a veterans’ memorial, and counter-protesters threw them back at the crowd.
After almost a three-hour protest and a moment of silence, the New Panthers Initiative left Rogersville feeling like they fulfilled their purpose of raising awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’ve been trying to single people out,” Thompson said. “I know me personally — I’ve been trying to pull people to the side and have that one-on-one conversation and explain what we’re trying to do.”