Black Lives Matter protest and march planned Thursday in Ontario

Keyshawn Jackson raises his fist and yells while marching with protestors toward downtown Pendleton on Monday, June 1. The protest, which centered against racism and police violence, drew approximately 150 protesters. (Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian)

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: Ontario City Manager Adam Brown provided additional information about the plans for the protest.

ONTARIO – Organizers plan a protest Thursday evening in Ontario against the killing of George Floyd, adding the city to a string of rural communities across Oregon that have seen such demonstrations.

The Black Lives Matter protest is scheduled for 6 p.m. Charlie Gonzalez of Ontario, the organizer, announced on his Facebook page that the site for the protest had been shifted from Lions Park in Ontario to the parking area outside Albertsons.

Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero said in late-night press release Wednesday that he and Officer Tom Elizondo met with Gonzalez earlier in the day. He said Gonzalez expressed a willingness to communicate with police and work “to ensure a peaceful and safe protest event.”

Gonzalez couldn’t be reached for comment but said on his Facebook page that his phone was overwhelmed with calls.

A flier promoting the event says “It Happens Here Too” and said the protest and march were against police brutality.

“Remember to keep it peaceful,” Gonzalez said on Facebook Thursday morning.

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said Thursday that the organizers plan to form their protest near Albertsons and then march east on Southwest Fourth Street, going either to Lions Park or City Hall. He said an evening meeting of the Ontario City Council planned for Thursday has been canceled. He said some city councilors are asking for a chance to speak at tonight’s demonstration.

Cities across the country have been convulsed by protests focused on the May 25 death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man killed by police. Four police officers have been charged in his death.

Protesters have jammed major cities from coast to coast, and some demonstrations have unleashed violent clashes between protesters and police in larger cities. Vandalism and looting have occurred.

President Trump on Monday announced to the country that he was ready to use military force to suppress the violence and destruction, a move that triggered even larger demonstrations outside the White House.

In Oregon, citizens have protested from Astoria to Baker City, from Hermiston to Klamath Falls. The protests in smaller cities have been peaceful, featuring signs and chants.

Romero said Ontario should brace for a large event.

“Due to the recent related events around the country, and the significant social media marketing of this event, the OPD is anticipating a significant influx of visitors to the city during the event,” he said.

“Potential impacts to the community” cited by the press release included high levels of traffic from pedestrians and vehicles, scarce parking in surrounding areas, elevated noise and congregation of large crowds throughout the area.

Romero said his agency has planned “an appropriate response level to ensure a safe peaceful protest, a hallmark of our civil society.”

“OPD respectfully encourages everyone to remain respectful of all others regardless of their personal views and opinions,” the press release stated. “Strong communities are built through mutual trust and community collaboration.”

Area police agencies were prepared to help Romero’s agency, including the Nyssa Police Department.

Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau posted a statement on his agency’s Facebook page last Saturday addressing the killing of Floyd and the ensuing protests across the country.

Rau said he and his agency were “disgusted” by the actions of the police in Minneapolis, calling the officers involved cowards.

 “A man, George Floyd, is dead because of the sickening and blatant abuse of power of a few men who should have never been employed as police officers to begin with,” he said.

“There is however no place for the open lawlessness, rioting, looting and destroying the life’s work of small business owners and the fact that idiots are doing it in Oregon is ridiculous,” he said. “We support the peaceful assembly of protests to bring change to a broken system, they need to have a voice. There are others who are using this tragedy as an excuse to destroy lives and property in cities they don’t even live in.”

Rau questioned what some protesters are accomplishing — when “most of this country agrees the actions of those officers was unacceptable” — by burning buildings, injuring innocent people and “destroying their life’s work.”

In a separate Facebook post on May 31, he reposted a video of Chris Swanson, sheriff of Genesee County in Michigan, speaking to a crowd of protesters after he took his helmet off and other police present “laid their batons down,” according to Swanson. In the video, Swanson walks with the crowd in support, which Rau praised.

“This is how you do it, it’s not us against them, it’s us being able to serve within our community and letting people be heard,” he said in the post. “The violence and senseless rioting does nothing but drive a wedge between people, do it the right way and focus on a common goal to make the world a better place for everyone.”

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian by email at [email protected].


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