By Lucia Starbuck, Trevor Bexon, Ty O’Neil and Don Dike-Anukam
“This is the response you get in Douglas County…”
A group of about 30 Black Lives Matter supporters, many of them minors, gathered to protest the Douglas County Sheriff after he made a controversial statement in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. They were met with intimidation, threats and violence from nearly a thousand counter-protesters, who came out to support law enforcement and the sheriff.
Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley was greeted by an eruption of cheers when he arrived in front of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Minden on Saturday morning. He held a press conference before a protest against him was slated to start.
For context, about two weeks ago the Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees was set to make a statement, which said in part, “We support #BlackLivesMatter. We resolutely assert and believe that all forms of racism, hatred, inequality and injustice don’t belong in our society.”
In response, Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley wrote a letter condemning the statement. The letter was published on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office website under “news.” The Sheriff stated, in part, “Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help.”
Coverley addressed his response during the press conference.
“I simply meant that if you don’t feel you can trust law enforcement, and the Sheriff’s Office specifically, then don’t feel that you have to ask us for help. It’s completely up to you,” Coverley said.
Some in the community were shocked at Coverley’s letter to the library, and the sheriff’s response quickly made national headlines. Black Lives Matter organizers from Carson City and Douglas County planned a protest in front of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Minden.
Attempts to talk met with verbal abuse, intimidation
There were about 30 Black Lives Matter supporters present throughout the day. Initially, a few dozen Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrated on the sidewalk across the street from the Sheriff’s Office, where hundreds of counter-protesters stood, sporting Donald Trump attire, and waving pro-law enforcement signage and American flags. The small group of Black Lives Matter protesters were quickly surrounded by the Douglas County locals who said they came out in solidarity with the sheriff.
The Black Lives Matter supporters ran out of the sidewalk they were protesting on. As they walked away, the counter-protests followed them closely throughout the small town, making it clear that the group was not welcome there.
One of the organizers from Carson City, Jerome Silas, addressed the crowd.
“The way we feel about the statement is that if supporting the Black Lives Matter movement will have them to not protect you, we want to know how they’ve been protecting their Black citizens,” Silas said.
Coverley said he doesn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement because of the group’s push to defund the police. Silas explained what he means when he says defund the police.
“Defunding of police does not actually mean taking the funds away from the police in order to starve them of resources. Defunding of police means we want you to reallocate those funds, give us an equitable educational system in which our children can be properly educated,” Silas said as the mass of counter protesters berated him.
One protester, Laurel Czujko, from the Bay Area, was staying at a hotel nearby while she attended horse camp.
“I just think that’s something, someone as public as the sheriff, especially, shouldn’t say something like that. I feel like you should keep your political views out of it, but I mean, this state, I feel like a lot of people feel the same way that he does, and it makes me sad,” Czujko said.
Czujko was joined by her friend, Lily Garcia. The two came to stand in solidarity, but also faced violence from the counter-protesters. They commented on how they were treated.
“Everyone has been yelling at us, telling us we’re racist, shoved us,” Czujko said.
“People have put hands on me,” Garcia said.
A lot of the protestors were armed, and many dressed in camouflage and were members of militias. KUNR Public Radio asked Coverley at his press conference about the social media posts that were circulating, saying that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was working with militias. He said no.
“People have guns, just on their side,” Garcia said, “I don’t know if I have to walk down the street, and get shot, which is what Black people have to live through every day with the racism that’s in the world.”
There were several physical altercations during the day, including small physical fights, shoving and a car slowly drove into the small Black Lives Matter crowd as they were crossing the street. No injuries were reported.
Assaults in Douglas County added to international “hate map”
Yesterday’s incidents were swiftly added to an international effort documenting far-right extremism and violence, led by Reno researcher Samantha Kutner. Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley shrugged off the violence: “Cars and people can be dangerous, and so we just do the best we can, with what we have, and hope everything turns out right.” No charges were filed.
The counter-protesters made it clear that the Black Lives Matter movement was not welcome in Douglas County. After several hours of being shouted at, called rioters and Communists, shoved and told to go home, Black Lives Matter supporters left because they didn’t feel safe exercising their First Amendment right to protest.
This Is Reno talked to Silas after the protest.
“Initially, we had no plans on moving at all,” Silas said. “Once we were surrounded, we thought it to be the safest for ourselves, as organizers, we had a little moment where we gave each other a gesture, then we decided to rally those who had come to really support us, and what we had organized. So, we decided to move on just so that we weren’t surrounded. We were getting more anxious, especially some of the younger ladies, feeling intimidated with full grown men probably the age of their father, even older, standing in their face yelling obscenities.”
Douglas County sheriff deputies had a strong presence at the demonstration, but remained hands off for the majority of the protest. Silas said the group did not feel protected.
“Some of the things that were said in the letter–where he was insinuating that he wouldn’t come to the aid of those who supported Black Lives Matter–that came to life in the form of his officers coming out of a heavily armored vehicle, not even prepared to escort us to our vehicles. I feel as though law enforcement today came with the sole intent to support those that came out to protest on their behalf,” Silas said.
Coverley comments on protest’s outcome
No citations were issued and no arrests were made. KUNR and This Is Reno talked to Coverley at the demonstration. Coverley said he respects both sides’ right to protest, and felt that the protest was peaceful.
He also said he doesn’t regret writing the letter to the Douglas County Public Library Board of Trustees.
“I think what I said was correct. I understand there’s opposing points of view, and not everybody agrees with me, and I don’t agree with them, and that’s okay. I think we need to have those types of conversations, and the purpose of the letter was to show the library board that I didn’t agree with what they wanted to do,” Coverley said.
The Sheriff said he doesn’t support the Black Lives Matter movement because he doesn’t want the police to be defunded, something the movement pushes for. Though, he did say he would support money being reallocated to mental health services, if it meant his deputies didn’t have to respond to those calls.
“Asking a police officer to be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a, you know, mental health expert is difficult,” he explained. “And we provide training and get the guys the best equipped that they can. And, you know, but so taking all of that away from law enforcement would be an excellent way to move money over. Right? So if I don’t have to do that, then you could probably take some of that budget, right,and move it to somewhere else that would do that.”
However, constructive dialogue between Black Lives Matter supporters and the pro-law-enforcement protesters did not occur. The outnumbered Black Lives Matter protesters were drowned out by people chanting, “USA! USA!” and “All Lives Matter.”
Counter-protest brings masses, organizer said it’s unfortunate Black Lives Matter supporters felt unsafe
The counter-protest organizer, Cory Baird, said the Douglas County locals who came out to counter-protest wanted to support Coverley, and to defend buildings in the area from getting damaged because they felt threatened due to protests that have unfolded in Oregon. No property was damaged during the demonstration.
Baird said it’s unfortunate that the Black Lives Matter demonstrators felt unsafe exercising their freedom.
“This is the response you get in Douglas County when you try to attack a county rural like us, unfortunately,” Baird said. “I wish some people would have been a little more peaceful, but it’s kind of hard to control everyone.”
Baird said he is trying to facilitate conversations between Black Lives Matter activists and Douglas County residents.
“What I am trying to do so hard is try to do a community project with their group, and that way Douglas can see that they’re not all violent. The isolated incidences in Portland and Seattle and all that, are isolated incidents,” Baird said.
Among the counter-protesters was Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Douglas, Lyon,Storey) supporting his constituents and the sheriff.
“He didn’t tell the library not to call 911, and I didn’t read it that way,” Wheeler told KUNR. “He told them if you want to take the funds away from the police, what he was saying, is if you want to take funds away from the police through an organization like Black Lives Matter, then why are you calling us all the time?”
Wheeler, who had to intervene against violent counter protesters, said the sheriff’s words got twisted.
“I stand with the sheriff,” Wheeler said, “I know that he was misquoted. It’s happened to me many times. The liberal press does seem to misquote people the way they want to do it.”
Wheeler wasn’t the only one who shared dismay for local members of the press.
Counter-protesters were hostile toward reporters from This Is Reno, KUNR Public Radio, KRNV, KOLO-8, KTVN, The Reno Worker and others, shouting that members of the press were, “fake news” and “robots.” Counter-protesters attacked, screamed at, spit on and grabbed reporters.
Black Lives Matter organizer reflects on protest
Silas said the protesters will need time to take care of themselves after Saturday’s protest.
“We will have to check on the condition of everybody else. Sometimes you might feel okay right after something traumatic, and then it might hit you later,” Silas said.
Silas says despite dispersing from the protest yesterday, the movement is not dying down.
“One of the things that we refuse to do is to allow people to believe that we will be silent. We may be moved, but we won’t be silent,” Silas said. “Rather than the sheriff being open to us coming back and protesting, we would rather an invite from him, or whatever colleagues he decides, to have a sit down discussion about the things that we feel like need to take place.”
Coverley said he is open to having dialogue with Black Lives Matter activists moving forward.