Grayson’s Interim Police Chief Travis Steele said he anticipates an even larger crowd to visit the city this Sunday than were here for last Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest and march, which was met with a large number of counter protesters.
“Last week was a successful event – everybody went home at the end of the day,” Steele said Thursday, seated at his desk inside the Grayson Police Department.
One arrest was made early in the day, the interim police chief said, noting that charge involved an intoxicated person who was “being an annoyance to some people.”
Police are also actively investigating crimes against the protest’s organizer, whose truck was stolen from the street, and also had a P.A. speaker smashed onto the pavement and destroyed.
“We’ve got a suspect in both of those cases,” Steele said, explaining the department is seeking a warrant for an Ashland man in connection with the property damage. The vehicular theft, which had numerous witnesses, remains under investigation.
Overall, Steele said he was definitely pleased with the efforts of a combination of officers from the Grayson Police Department, Carter County Sheriff’s Office, Kentucky State Police, Olive Hill Police Department, Carter County Detention Center, Greenup County Detention Center, Carter County 911, Grayson Fire Department, Grayson Emergency Management, and the Grayson Street Department, as well as representative of Commonwealth Attorney Brian Bayes office, who arrived early and remained on duty until the end of the day.
Given that the Black Lives Matter movement and protest is largely aimed at the nation’s police officers, Steele said local law enforcement officers handling crowd duties last Sunday were reminded, “You can’t take it personally. It is not about you personally.” Officers are often frustrated by protest chants including “I can’t breathe,” he noted.
Steele largely credited input from the Ashland Police Department, who have already experienced similar protest situations, as “an outstanding resource” for the local law enforcement team. “We took the Ashland Police Department’s plan and tweaked it,” he said.
“We managed to maintain order and allow both sides to exercise their constitutional rights. That was our mission for the day,” Steele said.
“It was an absolutely marvelous job by everyone involved, not just law enforcement.”
Racial slurs which were heard on Main Street “are things which should not have been said,” Steele observed, before adding “It’s not against the law to express your opinion. Both sides share constitutional rights.”
Officers spent much of the week before the protest considering strategies to deal with “worst case scenarios,” always with the directive “Keep your head. Do the right thing.”
The interim chief, who was appointed to that position following the recent retirement of Chief Kevin McDavid, said there were “alarming” situations downtown, although he also witnessed legitimate and open debate and discussion between protesters and counter protesters when the Black Lives Matter supporters marched to the police station as part of the demonstration.
Steele said he agrees with those who feel the counter protest was a direct response to threats of property damage.
“Law enforcement did not have anybody standing on rooftops,” he said, countering reports of such activity.
Main Street will not be shut down for the August 2 protest, although vehicles will not be allowed to remain on the street after 10 p.m. Saturday, Steele said, citing safety concerns. Protesters will be free to move at will, but will not have a route cleared for them.
“They will be able to march, but they can’t impede traffic,” he said.
Police have been monitoring multiple information sources regarding the upcoming protest, Steele said, and have reasons to expect another large crowd.
“Some social media posts indicate some counter protesters will be here again Sunday. I’m actually expecting more people this week than came last Sunday,” he said.
Lessons learned last week, including the need for measures to counter the heat for officers in heavy gear, will better allow the local team to handle things during the next protest, Steele said.
“Everyone is welcome to come to this city and exercise their constitutional rights,” he said. “But, we are prepared to enforce ordinances and statutes for any violations with intent to deprive anyone of their constitutional guarantees.”
Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON
Carter County Post