Bethel, Ohio (B-N.C) – The 80 or so expected demonstrators overcounted on Sunday afternoon by some 700 counterprotesters — motorcycle clubs, “back the blue” groups and proponents of the Second Amendment, Bethel, Ohio, officials said.
Some of counterprotesters were armed with firearms, by the words of local news, while others brought baseball bats and clubs. Police say they are investigating about 10 “incidents” from the clashes that followed, including a demonstrator being punched in the head.
By Monday evening the mayor had imposed a curfew while citing “the threat of continued and escalating violence”.
Bethel Administrator Travis Dotson said that village leaders are dismayed people feel Bethel isn’t safe for protesters and that the council wants to schedule a meeting and address Gee’s concerns. He said he was not aware of more violence Monday, when crowds had shrunk to 100 or 150 people, but said there were arrests — for what, he’s not sure.
No one was arrested Sunday due to the police overload to the point they had to focus on maintaining order and safety, he said; on Monday, more law enforcement from multiple agencies were there to help.
The BLM demonstrators was from local groups meanwhile counterprotesters were from out of the town, some with out-of-state license plates on their motorcycles, authorities said.
The mayor did not immediately respond to inquiries, and police referred all questions to his office Tuesday.
By 2 p.m., an hour before the demonstration was set to begin, the bikers had started to arrive, the village of Bethel said in a statement. Soon, the statement said, about 250 motorcycles had taken up the space intended for the Black Lives Matter event, pushing those demonstrators two blocks away.
At 3 p.m., by the authorities estimations that there were as many as 800 people in the area.
All six of Bethel’s police officers were on duty at the demonstration Sunday, according to village officials. Some county deputies were scheduled to help, but most were pulled away on an urgent call at the last minute, they said. And those who remained were stretched thin by violence initiated by the counterprotesters, mostly shoving, Dotson said.
One video, which the poster said showed his “niece getting pummeled by bikers,” captured an altercation in the crowd amid chants of “Blue lives matter!” and “All lives matter!”
“This ain’t Seattle!” a man yells in another video. “We’re not in a Democratic state here!”
Posted by Abbi Remers on Sunday, June 14, 2020
Bethel resident Abbi Remers wrote on Facebook that her brother was “sucker-punched from behind.”
“Counterprotesters started walking down on the other side of the street from up town, yelling obscenities and threatening us … ripping signs out of our hands, ripping the hats and masks off of our faces, ripping things out of our pockets,” she wrote, above a photo of a man’s bloody face.
There will be an independent inquiry into the punching incident, Dotson said, which will also examine the actions of an officer who was nearby when it happened. The victim was not badly hurt and has declined to press charges, he said.
The situation threatened to escalate Monday. In a video posted that day by Fox 19, Bethel Police Chief Steve Teague said authorities got images in the morning of social media posts “with some guns and things saying, ‘We’re going to Bethel, we’ll take care of what they didn’t take care of yesterday.’” But the rumors of people being bused in turned out to be false, Fox 19 said.
“If you’d asked me a week ago if any of this was going to come to Bethel, I would have said never,” Teague said. “And I still am kind of in shock of it being here.”
Video from Fox 19 captured him speaking to the crowd.
“All lives are important, okay?” the chief said.
“Yes!” some responded. There was clapping.
“I’m not saying I’m for one side or another, okay?” Teague said.
The mayor of Bethel responded to the chaos with a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew order Monday, and by Dotson’s account, people complied.
Dotson said he’s confident that authorities had the scene well protected Monday. But for people who were trying to make a statement about racial justice Sunday, fears linger.
“Our purpose was to show our community that it cares, that it loves the people within our community,” Gee said. “And right now that cannot happen.”
By Eric Silbermann for biker-news.com, based on Washington Post story