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‘We’re pushing for changes’: Protesters rally daily against racism in Manchester, but face heckling

Since June 15, a small group of protesters has been coming daily to the intersection of Md. 30 and Westminster Street in Manchester, holding signs to oppose racism and support Black Lives Matter.

One of the organizers said he decided to do something in his own area to support the movement after attending larger protests in Washington, D.C., Frederick and Westminster.

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“I realized that it was possible to do here as well. If it’s just standing out with a sign, I can do that,” said the organizer, Nathan P, who asked that his last name not be published because he has received threats.

Nathan reached out to friends and family, as well as through a local Facebook group, to gather supporters. They usually gather from 5-7 p.m., or 3 p.m. on weekends.

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During Thursday’s protest, he said, “What’s happening here in Manchester specifically is a community-based movement. It’s not funded or organized by anybody but the community in Manchester, and we’re pushing for changes in the community of Manchester.”

While he was saying that sentence, a driver yelled an expletive out of their window, and a protester yelled back, “We love you, too.”

One of the protesters’ signs asks drivers to “honk for justice.” Standing out on the sidewalk, there is a lot of honking and yelling, both in favor of the protest and against it. Discussions have flared on Facebook as well.

Nathan said that they just cheer back, not matter what they get. “It’s not worth our effort to yell back, you know, because that’s not what we’re out here doing. We’re not an angry mob of people on the side of the road,” he said. Later, he added, “We’re going to persist with our peace, no matter how they treat us.”

Police took one report on an incident in which someone in a vehicle allegedly mooned the protesters. People who said they were there at the time said they were most upset because there were kids at the protest who were exposed to it.

On the first day the protesters came out, Chief John Hess of the Manchester Police Department spoke with them, and both sides said there was good communication. Each day that the protesters assemble, an officer is posted on Main Street.

Hess said that they are fortunate to have had things be peaceful, and that the demonstrators are exercising their First Amendment rights. He said that before the first protest, some Facebook commentaters worried that a protest would mean looting and destruction of property. But the organizers themselves shut down that notion.

Sarah Lau was another one of the first people involved in organizing. She now regularly brings her daughter, though she wasn’t sure about doing so at first.

“Other than things shouted, it’s been an OK experience,” she said. “I had to explain to my 11-year-old why we kept hearing ‘white power’ screamed at us.”

The good reactions are worth the bad for her. Some people have been surprised that something like the protest would be in Manchester, she said. When there are bad reactions, it strengthens her conviction that they’re doing the right thing.

Robert Roys is one of the organizers of daily protests in Westminster who helped Nathan plan the logistics and figure out what was within their rights of assembly.

Comparing the two areas, Roys said that in Manchester, “They have a lot more traffic along this corridor than we have. I hear a lot more ‘FUs’ and ‘Get a job’ or ‘All Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.’ So definitely a slightly different demographic up here. Where in Westminster, where we have the odd, maybe one or two a day is like a middle finger.”

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A poster created by "Manchester, MD Black Lives Matter!" protesters.
A poster created by "Manchester, MD Black Lives Matter!" protesters. (Courtesy Photo)

Across Carroll County, he said, “I feel like this area’s just had so many people that don’t agree with a lot of the sentiment, but they kind of go on autopilot.They hear someone say something racist or they witness an act of discrimination and it’s just, ‘It’s where I live. What can you do?‘ ”

He hopes that by seeing people publicly speaking out, “Maybe someone else is gonna be a little more comfortable saying, ‘That’s not cool.‘ ”

Angie Scalion-Purpora was one of the first to respond to the event on Facebook. She said that protesting in her own community can be a “double-edged sword” because she’s more known than if she protests elsewhere. Living there, she is aware of the history of KKK activity in the town — something that is “deep seated” even if people don’t realize it, she said.

According to previous Times reporting, the KKK held a rally and cross-burning in Manchester in 1987, on the property of a member who lived on Water Tank Road. Local churches also organized a prayer event in opposition to their message a few miles away.

Scalion-Purpora has been out every day, even one day when she was the only person able to attend and stood by herself.

“When you believe in something, you believe in it, whether you’re by yourself or not,” she said.

Some people have told the protesters to go to somewhere else like Baltimore City because the protest isn’t needed in a small town, but “That’s exactly where you need to start,” she said.

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