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Black Lives Matter counterprotesters turn out big in Boise; few arrests, skirmishes


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Some Black Lives Matter protesters attend the planned rally at Boise City Hall on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. They kept mostly on one corner and traded chants with counterprotesters. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

(Idaho Statesman) – Aside from a handful of people detained or arrested in downtown Boise, a day of rallies and counterprotests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement went off fairly smoothly Tuesday, after hundreds in anti-BLM groups gathered near City Hall for hours following an event at Boise State.

The activity began at BSU at about 4 p.m. Tuesday with a peaceful Anti-Racist rally that included a message of defunding the police. A little bit later downtown, counterprotesters marched from Cecil D. Andrus Park by the Idaho Capitol to City Hall, where they filled an area that had been barricaded by police in anticipation of large crowds on opposite sides being in the same place.

That didn’t really materialize, however. As the BLM rally at Boise State University broke up, it first left the counterprotesters downtown chanting “USA” at passing cars and cheering police who were on motorcycles. By 7 p.m., about two dozen Black Lives Matter supporters had gathered at the corner of Capitol and Main Street, opposite of counterprotesters on the other side of the street. They traded some voicing of their positions, and Statesman reporters witnessed conversations between people that sometimes got heated.

A crowd starts to form Tuesday afternoon at a Black Lives Matter Anti-Racist rally at Boise State University. | Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

All the while, a robust police presence, as new Boise PD Chief Ryan Lee had promised, monitored the situation. Officers were on foot, on motorcycles and even nearby in vehicles, and many of them walked in and out of the crowds, which had grown on both sides and were still on hand after 9 p.m. Tempers flared in a handful of situations, with expletives shouted and people coming close to physical altercations, but each time violence seemed to be avoided.

At one point, local activist Billy Martinez was leading chants for Black Lives Matter supporters when a man walked up behind him and screamed an expletive near the back of Martinez’s head. People closed in just moments afterward, but the situation calmed down when others intervened.

Lee told reporters at 9 p.m. that two people were arrested earlier in the day and two others were detained. The two arrested allegedly tried to hop a fence into the police-only area between the the north and south protest sections of City Hall, Lee said. The two were being charged with resist and obstructing, which according to Idaho law carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

As of 9 p.m., police were investigating a report of assault and another report of assault and battery. In both of those cases the reported suspects were detained by police, Lee said.

The new chief, who was sworn in the day after the last protest, noted his appreciation of Black Lives Matter protesters who chose to demonstrate at BSU and away from City Hall, saying it made the crowds “much more manageable in size.” He also thanked all of those who came from outside of Boise and demonstrated peacefully.

Speaking during a news conference Wednesday, Lee thanked the officers who stood outside in high temperatures as well as several partner agencies that helped Tuesday evening.

“The event was largely peaceful,” Lee said. “There were a few arrests and investigations, but we had enough officers on hand so that we can immediately address those issues.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Boise police further detailed the arrests.

A total of six people were arrested during Tuesday night’s protests downtown, including one woman who allegedly pointed a gun at a crowd.

Two of those arrested were adults and the other four were juveniles, according to the news release from the Boise Police Department.

One man was arrested for allegedly jumping a barricade and charged with resisting and obstructing, a change from the previous day, as Lee originally said two were arrested.

Police arrested an adult woman after she allegedly pointed a handgun at a crowd. Officers seized the firearm during the arrest. The case will be referred to prosecutors for possible charges, the release said.

The four juveniles were detained or cited for different reasons. One juvenile was detained for an alleged battery before being released to their parents. Another was cited for being in consumption of alcohol.

Police detained a juvenile for disturbing the peace after allegedly exiting a car and attempting to incite a fight. That juvenile was also later released to their parents.

Finally, one juvenile was detained after allegedly committing battery on another person in a crowd, and the case is being routed to prosecutors to be screened for charges, according to the news release.

In addition to the handful of people who were arrested or detained, a Boise woman was given a traffic citation after driving slowly along North Capitol Boulevard during the protests. The woman, Elena Soto, said she knew the risk of doing what she did and accepted the consequences.

Trump supporters who were counterprotesting scream at Black Lives Matter backers Tuesday night at Boise City Hall. | Otto Kitsinger, for the Idaho Statesman

“Donald Trump is not for us, he’s not,” Soto told The Statesman. “He doesn’t care about Breonna Taylor, he doesn’t care about George Floyd.” Soto referred to a woman shot to death by police in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over 8 minutes while Floyd was face-down in the street.

She did, however, question why she was pulled over and issued a citation when there were others who repeatedly drove down the street, honking horns and revving engines. One woman driving a red pickup truck that was flying several flags, including a “thin blue line” flag, stopped in the middle of Capitol Boulevard to blare her horn, only to have a police officer walk over to the driver’s side window before the woman drove off. The driver of the red pickup made several more laps on Capitol.

Soto told the Statesman that she wonders why she was cited and even accused the police of playing favorites.

At Boise State, roughly 150 or so people had gathered and mingled around the big B on campus by about 4:30, with music playing across the plaza. Signs urged for better funding for education and declared that “Anti-Racism is the Future.” There also were people on hand dressed as clowns.

Safety measures for a Black Lives Matter Boise rally included plywood sheets of slogans, which volunteers load into a truck afterward; and clowns to de-escalate tension. The plywood banners ringed the plaza and could keep counterprotesters separate from protesters if needed, but the rally was over before a handful of counterprotesters showed up. | Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

As the rally was ending, a couple of trucks with people carrying Donald Trump campaign flags arrived, but there were no incidents.

“We brought some wooden signs to divide people up that serve the same purpose as the barricades the police were trying to back us into,” a BLM Boise organizer who identified himself as Ty told the Statesman. “The clowns are here to de-escalate stuff and talk to more unsavory people who are here to start fights.

”I want people to leave feeling more empowered than when they first came here.”

At about the time the BLM rally began, a crowd that grew to a few hundred counterprotesters began gathering at Andrus Park. After singing the national anthem, the group marched to City Hall, chanting “USA” along the way and then gathering along Capitol Boulevard just before 5:30 p.m.

Barricades were set up on both sides of Capitol, and people stood against them and along the square in front of City Hall. Several people waved American flags while others promoted Trump, whose stances on race and the Confederate flag have made him a lightning rod regarding the BLM movement.

A number of people carried sidearms on their belts, and others carried rifles in the counterprotest crowd. Many had signs, including “Defend the Police,” “ is a fraud! Denounce it,” and “All Lives Matter.”

Star resident Luke Haywood said he came to show his support for the police. He said Boise is a safe place because of the department, and he claimed that Idaho lacks the systemic racism found in other places. He said he’d like to see a dialogue about other things.

“This is not the Idaho I grew up in, and I don’t want my grandkids growing up and looking at Boise like another Atlanta or Seattle or Portland or Chicago,” said Haywood, 56, who spent 25 years in the Army.

Haywood said he understands the anger people feel over the police killing of Floyd in Minnesota. He said some police reforms might be warranted.

“I mean, George Floyd was murdered. He was murdered,” Haywood said. “I believe there should be reform, but I don’t think the funding should be taken away. If anything, put more money into them, give them better training. Deadly force should be used only as a last resort.”

Kuna resident Jacki Cook held a sign reading “Blue Lives Save Black Lives.”

“I came to support the police and to stand up for American values and to stand against the BLM, Antifa and other groups that are trying to destroy America,” Cook said.

She said BLM protesters want to destroy private property, get rid of capitalism and dismantle families.

At the Boise State rally, Ty took a microphone and led a series of chants. The first was: “No Trump, no racists, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.”; the second was: “2-4-6-8, stop the violence, stop the hate, 2-4-6-8, defund the police state.” A “Black Lives Matter” chant followed those.

Ty also spoke about laws in Idaho governing searches and the serving of warrants, and spoke at length about the effort to defund the police — which he described as removing money from the budget. He said that people in city government the BLM group might consider allies are not getting the message about defunding and not taking the issue seriously enough.

Lee first provided a media update at 3:30 p.m. to talk more about the city’s response to what was expected to be a busy, contentious night.

Counterprotesters head from Andrus Park near the Capitol to Boise City Hall on Tuesday to face off with Black Lives Matter supporters. | Otto Kitsinger, for the Idaho Statesman

“We have several areas set up to help facilitate free speech tonight,” Lee said, pointing to designated, barricaded sites outside of City Hall.

It was thought the BLM rally was going to take place downtown, but instead it was held at BSU. A number of Boise police officers arrived in a small bus there at about 3:45 p.m.

Another event took place in the evening at Manitou Park in South Boise. It was organized by activists and Black Lives Matter supporters who diverged from the event at Boise State over safety issues and messaging.

“I went to the other rally that was really, really messy and my friend got hit,” said Tryphene Bulape, who was at Manitou and referred to the June 30 protest in Boise that included clashes and assaults. “My parents didn’t want me to go to what was happening today for safety concerns.”

Bulape said a friend of hers told her about the event at the park, and she enjoyed talking to others about their experiences with racism.

“I’ve seen three of my teachers and my counselor here. And just knowing that they care about people that look like me is really cool,” she said.

In his afternoon remarks, Lee also addressed reports of suspicious activity throughout the day in downtown Boise, including one suspicious package, but said police had responded to reports and found no danger and no incidents.

“It sounds like there is some sort of effort going on to spread misinformation,” he said.

On Monday, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean implored the public to stay home and not attend the protests, citing safety concerns. She issued a statement in support of peaceful protests, but warned that threats and possible violence prompted her to tell Boiseans to avoid downtown.

McLean’s message came shortly after Lee briefed the media Monday, saying there would be a heavy police presence with the expectation of large crowds, and that violence toward others would spur immediate action. He said that people have even threatened McLean with violence. He also referred to groups that had announced their intention to “help the police” — something he said was wholly unnecessary. He discouraged anyone from attending the protests to carry firearms or other weapons.

Speaking Wednesday, McLean thanked Lee and the rest of the Boise Police Department for their work.

Black Lives Matter counterprotesters gather in a barricaded area outside City Hall on Tuesday evening. At one point when three police officers drove by on motorcycles, the crowd cheered. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

“It is really important to me and us in the city that we protect First Amendment rights,” McLean said. “That’s a big part, as I said in advance to the protest, of our life as Americans, and it’s equally as important that we prevent violence from occurring.”

She said she and other city officials would continue to listen to concerns and conversations about how policy could address those worries.

Statesman reporter Hayley Harding contributed.