The support at a Sunday evening protest in downtown Gainesville might have been less than usual, but PRO Gainesville founder Justin Thompson said the activist group isn’t going away anytime soon.
“We had a lot of support that didn’t feel comfortable coming out today [Sunday, Sept. 6] because of the reports of them [law enforcement] trying to do mass arrests on us,” Thompson said.
Sunday’s protest was the first major PRO Gainesville event since Thompson, Torrey Henderson and Amara Ridge were booked into the Cooke County Jail on Class B misdemeanor charges of obstructing a highway or other passageway. The charges stemmed from a march Sunday, Aug. 30. All three organizers and Gainesville residents bailed out Thursday, Sept. 3, not long after they were booked in that same morning.
PRO Gainesville has been calling since June for the removal of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that stands on the northeast corner of the Cooke County Courthouse, 101 S. Dixon St.
Thompson said some of the backers of the Gainesville-based activist group didn’t feel safe coming out this past weekend and he understands their decision.
“Safety is No.1 priority,” he said.
He also thinks a recent order unanimously approved by the Cooke County Commissioners’ Court is a tactic to deter the group’s protests.
According to the order, which went into effect Friday, Sept. 4, “a person or persons may not cause or authorize any signs, symbols, structures, contrivances or devices to be placed, installed, affixed or maintained on or over county property including the placement or installation of any signs, structures, contrivances, devices used for commercial or noncommercial purposes, except for items approved by the commissioners’ court.”
“We feel like this is just one way that they are trying to use to silence us,” Thompson said. “We will not be silenced. We have a First Amendment right, freedom of speech and freedom to protest, and we will continue that. We will do our best to obey their rules that they want to set forth with the understanding that what they are doing is clearly to disrupt our First Amendment rights.”
Allen Zoeller, a Woodbine resident, said Sunday’s protest was his first to attend. He was sitting on the opposite side of the street where counter-protesters often gather and said he was in favor of keeping the Confederate monument.
“My issue is they need to get the facts straight first,” Zoeller said. “ … Blacks fought in the war and whites fought in the war … same way in WWI they did and in WWII they did.”
Zoeller said he’s lived in the community for 30 years and he though the statue hasn’t been an issue before this year.
“The statue is not the issue really, they’re just making it an issue,” he said. “It’s OK that they voice their opinion … you can learn from your mistakes but destroying your history isn’t going to help one bit, that’s my opinion.”
Gainesville Police Chief Kevin Phillips said his department didn’t make any arrests during Sunday’s protest.
He said there were maybe 40 protesters on the PRO Gainesville side and counter-protesters came and went so he didn’t get a good count of how many there were.
There were 24 Gainesville Police Department officers dedicated to the Sunday evening protest, according to Phillips.
He said there were no reported assaults and it was “overall a successful event.”
Cooke County Sheriff Terry Gilbert said his department didn’t make any arrests either. There were 18 personnel from the Cooke County Sheriff’s Office at the event, he said.
“As far as I know everything went peacefully,” Gilbert said.
Troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety were only at the protest to assist, according to Texas Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Tackett.