ELGIN — Under the watchful eyes of men driving pickup trucks displaying oversized Confederate flags and teen boys wearing Trump shirts, a group of about 50 people gathered in front of the Elgin Town Hall to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
The rally was similar to ones held in places like Rochester. However, the tension between the BLM group and counter-protesters in pickups, as well as groups standing on the other side of the street, was much more obvious in the small town with 1,087 residents.
Holding handmade signs saying things like “Protesting racism and fascism is patriotic” and “I can’t breathe,” the group standing in the afternoon heat shouted chants such as, “No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police,” led by Elgin resident Jake Roberts.
A large truck from Wisconsin with a Confederate flag and an anti-BLM flag repeatedly drove by the event and eventually parked next to the protesters. A young white man got out of the truck and attempted to pass out pamphlets. No one appeared to accept them.
Somewhat diffusing their presence, some BLM supporters gathered on the sidewalk with their signs to pose by the truck and its flags as a background.
For Jasmyne Johnson, the tension was familiar. She grew up experiencing racism as a person of color in nearby Plainview, but left to become a social worker in the Twin Cities.
“This (the BLM rally) would have never happened when I was younger,” she said. “This is what we need. We need other people to stand up for us, because our voices are never heard. We will not have change until white people use their voices.”
Johnson said she experienced racism firsthand in Elgin and in school growing up. While pleased the rally happened in Elgin, she believed it was “a sign of the times” due to the changes outside the city instead of a growing understanding of race within Elgin.
While the BLM group spoke louder to be heard over the revving of truck and motorcycle engines driving slowly by, a few teenage boys watched from across the street.
“This is our town. We’d like to have our voices heard, too. I can’t imagine what would happen if instead of 'Black lives,' we said 'white lives matter,' ” said 17-year-old Maverik Sawyer. “I think all lives matter. Everybody has a right to protest, but what they have been doing as part of the Black Lives Matter protests and burning stuff down, I don’t support that.”
Following the rally, BLM protesters approached Sawyer and his group, all teenagers who had been quietly watching from a distance throughout the rally. The discussion grew heated, though not violent.
Despite the tension, many people of Elgin of all ages spoke passionately in support of BLM and Black people killed by police.
One young woman from Elgin spoke about how her father was frightened for her and her siblings' safety, because they were attending the event. She asked the crowd to compare that fear to that of parents of Black children, who are in danger while buying Skittles or sleeping in their beds.
Dee Sabol, the executive director of Rochester’s Diversity Council, also spoke to the enthusiastic crowd.
When asked about her reaction to the event happening in Elgin, Sabol she was “astounded.”
“I come from a town of 1,100 people in Minnesota that wouldn’t be able to do this,” she said. “This gives me so much hope.”