Backlash To Black Lives Matter Protests Spills Offline Online fights over racial justice have spilled onto the courthouse lawn in Prineville, Ore. Black Lives Matter protesters there stand off regularly with counterdemonstrators waving Trump flags.

In Rural Oregon, Threats And Backlash Follow Racial Justice Protests

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In Oregon, anti-racism protests aren't happening only in Portland. In one rural town, conflicts that started on social media have now spilled onto a courthouse lawn. Here's Emily Cureton from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

EMILY CURETON, BYLINE: Shortly after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, Josie Stanfield organized a Black Lives Matter protest. The 28-year-old lives in Prineville, a central Oregon town of about 10,000 residents. Fewer than 1% of them are Black.

JOSIE STANFIELD: So, like, the reason I did this was 'cause I went to high school here, and I didn't have a good time in the community. I've always been targeted for being Black since high school. I've always been the Black kid that got targeted specifically for being Black.

CURETON: Stanfield remembers classmates throwing food at her and whispering the N-word in the hallways. A couple of weeks after the first Prineville protest, she met with the local police chief, Dale Cummins. It didn't go well. She posted a video about the meeting on Facebook.


STANFIELD: We were repeatedly, repeatedly told that we are only 0.8% of the county. Basically, why are we making noise?

CURETON: Chief Cummins responded with his own video on the department's official Facebook page.


DALE CUMMINS: Josie Stanfield made a video and, quite frankly, completely lied about the conversation.

CURETON: Stanfield got a slew of threatening Facebook messages. One says, quote, "I promise I will run you over in my lifted Chevy."


CURETON: The conflict has now spread offline into weekly protests in front of the county courthouse.


CURETON: Distinct groups face off on either side of a highway. On one side of the road, people hold handmade cardboard signs supportive of Black Lives Matter or Josie Stanfield specifically. Across the street, a crowd waves flags - American flags, pro-police flags, Trump 2020 flags and the Confederate flag. One woman's T-shirt says, lying Josie has got to go.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Go home, commies, go home. Go home, commies, go home.

CURETON: On a recent Saturday, more than a dozen members of a militia, the Oregon III% Zone 5, show up. Some carry assault-style rifles and zip-tie handcuffs. The paramilitary group aligns with conservative causes.


CURETON: Townspeople say they're here to protect Prineville from riots. Ken Clark and Brandi Gagnon sit behind a sign that reads, Black Lives Matter is a racist movement. Prove me wrong. They say the conflict isn't about race.

KEN CLARK: I - no. That's been - it's 2020. Nobody cares about the color of your skin anymore. We really don't. Nobody does.

BRANDI GAGNON: They're terrifying our children with every weekend of blasting off about something that doesn't matter.

CURETON: The day is tense, and violence is just narrowly avoided.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All of you, back up now. Back up.

CURETON: In recent weeks, though, police have cited and arrested people after altercations.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Back up. Back up. Back up.

CURETON: These heated confrontations are happening across the street from police headquarters. That Facebook video Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins posted about activist Josie Stanfield, it's now been viewed more than 39,000 times.

CUMMINS: You know, we're only a town of 10,000, but we have seven - almost 18,000 followers on our Facebook page.

CURETON: Cummins says he didn't violate any department policies, and the chief's refused to retract the video.

CUMMINS: I get criticism, and that's just part of my job.

CURETON: And have you ever called someone out on social media by name before who criticized you?

CUMMINS: I have never had to.

CURETON: Black Lives Matter activist Josie Stanfield says the consequences of the police chief's video go beyond unrest outside the courthouse.

STANFIELD: I hide in my house. I hide in my backyard. I hide in my front yard. Cars drive by, and I duck because I don't know who's going to see me and where I'm living, you know?

CURETON: She says she's lost some hope.

STANFIELD: I've had so many people say we didn't have racism here until I started the protest.

CURETON: She thinks real change would take a total overhaul of the town's leadership and a new police chief.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Cureton in Prineville, Ore.


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