A peaceful protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3 in St. Helens.
The protest will include a march beginning on the corner of N 21st and Columbia Blvd. and end with a vigil at the Courthouse Plaza Square in the city’s Old Town District.
The event is spearheaded by the Facebook group Liberal Citizens of Columbia County, whose co-founder Shana Cavanaugh estimates turnout will be anywhere from 100 to several hundred people.
A similar march had first been organized by St. Helens High School students Ross Cahill and Caden Willaby. The two students posted messages on social media, including on the Facebook group Concerned Citizens of Columbia County (4C’s), about the protest, inviting community members to march with them in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
However, that march was canceled due to threats posted on 4C’s, according to the two students.
“St. Helens isn’t like the most liberal town or anything,” Cahill said. “We saw a ton of people saying ‘we’re going to spread “freedom bullets,”’ an analogy for bullet shells, another one saying they were going to run people over, another one saying they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot. I told Caden, and we both decided it would be safest to shut it down just so that that doesn’t have a chance to happen.”
In addition to threats of violence against the protesters, numerous community members expressed concern about the protest itself becoming violent, following riots after similar protests in Portland, Eugene and across the nation. The protests have been in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man, who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and other police.
Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and three other officers at the scene of the incident with Floyd at the time have been terminated from their positions, according to news reports by CNN.
St. Helens protest
Soon after the original St. Helens protest was canceled, the new protest was scheduled, this time by Cavanaugh, who posted a message on 4C’s.
“It looks like the person(s) who first wanted to organize a protest have possibly canceled their involvement, so the Liberal Citizens of Columbia County have taken responsibility for organizing a #BLM march. Same time and place, join us if you’d like,” Cavanaugh wrote on the Facebook group’s main page.
Security measures will be in place for the protest, according to Cavanaugh, who met with the St. Helens Police Department (SHPD)on Monday to discuss the safety procedures. There will be officers from SHPD walking alongside the protestors and not just in their patrol vehicles, in order to keep an eye out for instigators of violence.
Protest attendees have also been instructed to screenshot any online threats they receive and email them to Cavanaugh at email@example.com. Cavanaugh will send the messages to SHPD so the law enforcement agency is aware of any potential threats well ahead of the march.
Statement from St. Helens Police
On Tuesday afternoon, St. Helens Police issued the following statement concerning the planned local protest.
To the St. Helens
We hear you. We are upset and saddened by acts of racism and racial injustice. Most of our officers live in this community. Our friends and families are here. This is where our children attend school and where we shop and dine. We support your concerns regarding the need for systematic change across the nation in police response. The people who make our laws need to hear your voice so that this change can become a reality.
Our Department has been in contact with the organizers of the protest being planned for Wednesday, June 3 at 5 p.m. in St. Helens. For community safety, the protest will now be using the Lewis and Clark Elementary School parking lot to park their vehicles and assemble. The protest will then proceed down Columbia Boulevard to South 1st Street and into the Plaza Square and Columbia View Park area.
Although this event is not permitted by the City due to the Governor’s orders restricting gatherings over 25 people, we understand that right now people need a platform in which to voice their sadness and anger and hear their call for these issues to be addressed.
At this point, we have no reason to believe that this will be anything other than a peaceful protest, and we are working with the group organizers and other community members who have contacted us to ensure that it remains so.
Our police officers will be at the protest with the safety of everyone as our number one priority. We encourage all attendees to obey all laws. Respect our community residents, business owners, and their property. By respectful of each other and protest in a peaceful fashion so that your voice can be heard.
We will be there to facilitate a peaceful protest. We will protect those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights and ensure the safety of our community members.
Chief Brian Greenway
St. Helens Police Department
My the numbers
Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement regard the killing of Floyd as the latest in a long series of police brutality and racial injustice against black Americans.
According to data gathered by advocacy group Mapping Police Violence, black Americans are three times more likely than whites to be killed by police. And it’s not about crime – rates of violent crime do not correlate with rates of police violence, according to the same data.
Cahill said recent events inspired him and his friends to first begin to organize the protest.
“People of color today face a lot of injustices and hardships that white people don’t,” Cahill said. “They are way more likely to be shot by the police if they are unarmed than white people. I thought it would be good to stand up for that now, because St. Helens isn’t the most diverse town.”
On a Monday, June 1, during an online Zoom meeting about the St. Helens protest, approximately 40 members of the group Circle, a local group whose description on Facebook reads, “support each other to make a positive difference in our community,” met with organizers, St. Helens Police and Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley, to discuss how the protest could be planned in the most effective and safe way.
St. Helens High School senior Savannah Manning, who is also black, suggested a sit-in.
“If someone shows up and tries to be violent, we will know exactly who it is. And that way it’s not getting blamed on people who are trying to peacefully protest,” Manning said.
She also added, “I just feel like we all need to be there for each other, especially during coronavirus when all this is happening, I feel like now’s the time where we have to stick together and show that we are a loving community and not split up and separating.”
Pixley spoke about the concerns surrounding the potential for the protest to get out of hand, saying he was concerned about outside groups intervening.
“My concern is that they’re going to use this peaceful rally as a diversion to cause hate and discontent elsewhere within the county,” Pixley said. “And I’m really concerned with, just coming on the backside of this COVID-19 stuff that this could really be devastating to our community as a whole if we allow that to happen. So we need a security plan.”
A few other community leaders present at the meeting said they were not worried about violence resulting from the protest in any way.
Shanna Duggan, who works for the city of St. Helens as recreation coordinator was one of those people.
“From my experience, Duggan said, “the people who are the loudest right now on the internet aren’t going to show up to talk things out. That’s just been my experience with different things I’ve been involved in.”
The Chronicle will be closely following the march and gathering in St. Helens with reports at thechronicleonline.com and a followup story in the June 10 print edition.