Pine Island -- Devale Taylor was on his way home from work in Rochester to Pine Island last weekend when he saw a group of a few dozen people holding “Black Lives Matter” signs near an intersection in the Goodhue County town.
Their presence heartened him, he said.
“These people are standing up for my rights,” he recalled thinking.
He showered, changed clothes and joined them. His joy dissipated as counter protesters -- some carrying confederate flags -- set up across the street. He recognized some of the counter protesters, he said.
“Some of the people I’ve had conversations with at the bar were across the street,” said Taylor, who has llived in Pine Island since 2013. “It hurt -- this is the community I live in, this is the town I live in.”
On Thursday, Black Lives Matter supporters again rallied, but aside from some rude gestures -- mostly from older white men -- they saw little opposition to their message on a hot summer day on the asphalt.
Taylor was at Thursday's rally, too, and said he hopes people in town are getting the message.
“We know all lives matter, but when you say that in response to ‘Black lives matter,’ you’re dismissing what’s going on in Black communities all over,” Taylor said.
Black people have been killed by police regardless if they were armed, committing a crime or even sleeping in their own homes, he said.
“You can’t even walk or jog or sit in your own house,” Taylor said.
Last week’s rally was in support of the movement that gained momentum after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It was also in response to pushback city council member Kelly Leibold experienced after she posted criticism of U.S. police systems to social media. A "Blue Lives" flag was flown at the fire hall on the heels of Floyd’s death and the worldwide protests it sparked. The flag, displayed in support of law enforcement, is seen by some as a rebuke of Black Lives Matter. Organizers of the rallies wanted to show a different side of small towns than is normally seen.
“I think that more people are realizing more folks in this town, they don’t want to stand for white supremacy and police violence,” said Alice Kopp, who helped organize both Pine Island rallies.
Kopp said an absence of counter protesters Thursday was a good sign.
“If all it took for those people to feel disempowered to be out here was one protest -- one demonstration -- then good for us,” Kopp said.
The city cordoned an asphalt parking lot for the rally at no cost to the planners, Kopp said. The 90-degree temperatures Thursday might have also deterred counter demonstrations.
Shannon McKay, of rural Pine Island, attended and had first aid provisions on hand in case people experienced heat illness or other injuries.
Taylor said last weekend’s response was eye-opening, but he was glad organizers took the step to plan the rally. He said he felt he would have been too high-profile as a Black man in a city with less than a 1% African American population to organize the rally himself.
Lawrence Conley, who attended the rally from Rochester, added Black people have long been ignored when speaking out against racism.
“Our voices get lost in the rafters,” Conley said.
Taylor said he probably won’t see the city he lives in quite the same way anymore.
“I think racism is a hidden thing here,” he said. “True colors are coming out right now -- good and bad.”