ANGOLA — The protest movement that has spread across the country made it to Angola Sunday afternoon as a group numbering as many as 15 people took to the Public Square to voice opposition to the killings of black people at the hands of police that has been amplified by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd died after pleading for air as an officer pressed a knee into his neck. The officer has been charged with third degree murder.
The predominantly white group of protesters were out on the Public Square from 4-6 p.m. voicing their opposition to violence, holding signs in front of the Steuben County Courthouse.
“We just feel like black people’s lives matter,” said Sheanea Morgan of Angola, who organized the event along with Ryan Miller of Angola.
The protesters stayed in front of the Courthouse stairs the entire time, peacefully, occasionally singing along with music playing from their smart phones.
“I just think that everybody should be treated with care,” said Nicole Hausbach, Auburn, who attended the rally along with fellow Prairie Heights High School graduate Devon McGue, of Ashley. “I just want peace. It’s sad that people have to be treated so horribly.”
Several of the protesters wore shirts they’d made for the event that said: “No freedom until we’re all equal.”
A few local people attended to support the efforts, including one that dropped off a package of bottled water for those standing in the Sunday afternoon sun.
There wasn’t any trouble during the event, which had some downtown business owners concerned in light of violent protests elsewhere in the country the past few days, including in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. Complicating matters were rumors prior to the event, including one that people were going to be bused to Angola for the event.
Some business owners attended, watching from their stores. In fact, there were probably more people watching, at times, than there were participants in the protest, which started out with six people then grew to about 15, ending on time as agreed with police.
Miller said he’d heard the rumors that things might get broken during the observance.
“It is possible to peacefully protest,” Miller said.
Angola Police Chief Stu Hamblen said he was pleased with the uneventful outcome of the event. There was no violence, no property was damaged and the protesters were peaceful. At 6 p.m., two uniformed officers let the protesters know it was time to leave, and the event disbanded. Miller said he thought Hamblen was very supportive when they set the rally timeline at 4-6 p.m.
“They weren’t the ones we were concerned about. It’s the people that come out against them,” Hamblen said.
No one who disagreed with the protesters caused any problems either.
During the two-hour rally, the group seemed to get more supportive sounding honks than angry sounding revved vehicle engines. Those driving the vehicles with angry sounding engines did tend to make repeat laps around Soldiers Monument.
One woman drove a full revolution around the mound then headed south on South Wayne Street, shouting from her window, “Blue lives matter!” in support of police.
Hausbach replied: “We’re standing here for everybody.”
Quickly thereafter, a man shouted from a vehicle, “Get the f- — out of here.” The protesters were unfazed and continued singing.
That was about as confrontational as it got.
“Their intentions are good,” Hamblen said. “The issue isn’t with (the protesters). It’s the people who don’t think the same (as they do).”
For that reason, Hamblen had to plan quickly for a protest city officials weren’t informed of until Saturday. Had it not been for the fact that protests were taking place all over the country, Hamblen said, this event would not have been approved.
Hamblen said it was determined to be in the best interest of the community to let the event go forward in a peaceful fashion than to have a demonstration start spontaneously, which may have resulted in problems.
Even though the protest came together in about 24 hours, police put together a force of Angola Police officers and a contingency of officers from every police department in the county as well as other city department personnel that numbered about 100 on the ready, Hamblen said.
“We had a very short time to prepare for this,” Hamblen said.
Steuben County Sheriff R.J. Robinson said his department was prepared to provide assistance if requested.
Nonetheless, there was not a single police officer or vehicle to be seen on the Public Square the entire time. Police monitored the situation from a drone that hovered over City Hall throughout the event.
“We felt that if we were out in the open showing a presence it could have set more people off,” Hamblen said.
After the event, after 8 p.m., others reportedly gathered on the Public Square but nothing came of it.
Hamblen said since word got out about Sunday’s protest, there have been requests from others to hold similar events in the coming days, but they are being told to go through the regular channels to have an event on the Public Square, which involves filling out paperwork in City Hall.
Much of the planning comes from the lessons learned during the Ku Klux Klan rally held during the summer of 1995 that led to the arrest of several young people who, at the time, appeared to be protesting neither for nor against the Klans people.
Since that time, procedures for public events are in place. After that 1995 event, which was held on the Courtyard, Steuben County billed the Klan chapter, based in St. Joe, for police protection and the like. The bill was never paid.
Hamblen said he plans to take to the Angola Common Council a proposal that spells out exactly is required in order to hold an event on the Public Square that will require city of Angola resources.