What organizers say will be a peaceful racial injustice protest and march is being planned for Saturday in uptown Hillsboro.
“This will be a PEACEFUL protest, signs a sit-in, chanting and marching around the main strip blocks of the center of town,” 27-year-old Lynchburg resident John Keyser, the brainchild of the event, wrote in a Facebook post. “There will be NO looting, NO rioting, NO starting fires & NO blocking the roads/traffic we will demonstrate how a real peaceful protest should be done, i will be contacting local PD as well as Sheriff’s to notify them of our event and extend an olive branch for them to join and support and show understanding for our cause. Also please practice safe social distancing and covid-19 mask use.”
Keyser, who attended school in Lynchburg, Hillsboro and at Laurel Oaks, said protesters will gather in the lower parking lot on the former Hillsboro High School site along Elm Street. He said they plan to march along the sidewalks toward the center of town, then possibly march around a couple other blocks, maybe stopping at the Highland County Courthouse for a time.
However, Hillsboro Superintendent Tim Davis said he was unaware of the march and that no one had contacted him about using the school’s parking lot as a staging area for the protest.
Keyser his dream would be to lead the march, titled the Hillsboro “Black Lives Matter” Protest, arm-in-arm with Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels and Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera.
Barrera said although the event will be in the police department’s jurisdiction, sheriff’s deputies will be on hand to support the police department. But he said they will not participate in the march.
“We respect the right of the individuals to protest and express themselves and their individual rights,” Barrera said. “We just want them to express themselves safely, keep the community safe, and respect others’ rights. Hopefully they can serve as a model for the entire county, and the entire nation, for that matter.”
Daniels did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Brianne Abbott, Hillsboro safety and service director, said there will be a police presence at the event.
The other event organizers are Hillsboro resident Shawn Captain; Desiree Keyser, John Kesyer’s wife; and Hailee Williams.
Captain said his great-grandmother was one of the Hillsboro Marching Mothers that fought for integration of the Hillsboro City Schools in a 1950s court case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (and the Marching Mothers won). He said his grandmother, Lois Captain, attended the Lincoln School that was designated for black elementary students at the time.
“I’m not going to trample on their legacy by having a non-peaceful protest,” Shawn Captain said. “If they could do so much good in a more hostile time, hopefully we can peacefully honor their legacy.”
Desiree Keyser said her husband planned to visit the police department and sheriff’s office to let them know what was planned and to ask if they would be on hand to quell any problems, or possibly even join the march.
“It isn’t a bad intentions thing at all,” she said. “I think people have a misconception from some of the mainstream protesters around the country. I cannot say desperately enough that we want it to be peaceful.”
Some local officials who asked not to be identified said they were more concerned about local residents responding negatively to the protesters rather than problems from the protesters.
John Kesyer announced the event in a Facebook post Monday evening. Captain said he was shook up Tuesday morning when he awoke to find people making Facebook threats against the protest.
One post said: “Did anywhere else hear on WSRW Radio that protesters are headed to Hillsboro this weekend! Let’s give them a friendly country style welcoming!!!” There was a linked comment that read: “Get my gun son.”
The protest, John Keyser said, is not only about the recent death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis, Minnesota officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd was screaming that he could not breathe. He said he does not believe the officer who had his knee of Floyd’s neck was charged properly and thinks it is wrong that other officers involved in the incident have not been charged.
“It’s not about me. I’m just trying to use what ease of access I have as a white male to ease oppression. …All lives matter in the end of the book of life, but right now this is the black chapter,” John Keyser said.
For the last few Saturday evenings local residents have revived a former tradition of “cruising” in the uptown Hillsboro area that was prohibited years ago. Many local residents are concerned the “cruisers” could cause problems for the protesters.
The cruising started with what local resident Dan Holsinger, with help from others, started through a Facebook group called “Bring Cruisin’ back to Uptown Hillsboro!!” Holsinger could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in another Facebook post he said he supported local residents’ right to protest, asked the cruisers to give the protesters space, and for the cruisers to stay out of the uptown area from 5-8 p.m. Saturday. He also asked the cruisers not to heckle or verbally abuse the protesters since “they are exercising their 1A rights.”
John Keyser said concerns about others causing issues for the protesters would not deter him.
“It makes me want to do it all that much more,” he said. “I can’t change the world, but I can’t set idly by. I’m not changing my stance.”
Desiree Keyser said there is social injustice all over the world. She said the protest is not just a black and white racial issue.
“I want people to see us all as equals. We’re not putting any race on a pedestal,” she said. “You don’t have to agree, but you can see it from someone else’s eyes.
“I hope that people can just come together and make peace. I know that’s a big request, but I hope something good comes from this. Something positive — maybe some change.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.