ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both protesters and police commented tonight with two words that many have not heard recently in news, a “peaceful protest” in Ellijay concluded despite rain and counter-protests in the area.
Authorities prepared after permits were approved yesterday, June 3, for a planned protest expecting 25 to 30 people in attendance. Even Eloisa Rafael, one of three students who were the organizers of the event along with Pedro Chavez and Nashely Hernandez, said that they were expecting around 25 people when they were planning and speaking with friends.
Instead, what the three students saw, were preliminary estimates closer to 200 people gathered in and around the roundabout in Downtown Ellijay with signs, speeches, and chants for support of the Black Lives Matter movements and for prominent names in both media and movements around the country.
All three of the organizers voiced their surprise and excitement at the larger turnout saying that they felt very encouraged by the level of community support in that way.
As protestors began the rally at 4:00 p.m., organizers called for peace and non-violence as they voiced opinions and chants, one man even stood to call for dialogue with police as he said that without dialogue, there can be no change. One of their first speakers, Pastor Robert Diaz, spoke a prayer over the gathering before offering words of encouragement for equality and rights saying, “We are going to make every effort, every day, to let our kids know, and our society know, that love shall prevail over hate, over discrimination, and whatever else.”
Diaz later said in an interview after the event that he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Obviously, all lives do matter, but in this instance, it is actually the black community that is actually more oppressed. We can see that all over, for decades… We are here as a nation, united, to raise our voice and to let the world know that this has to stop.”
Protesters continued under police supervision throughout their two-hour-long rally with speakers and representatives from the community including ministers and students who called for attention to social issues including the death of George Floyd and other media reports of police violence.
Protest organizer Nashely Hernandez said, “I helped organize this today because people need to stop being judge just because of the color of their skin.”
Others echoed the sentiment saying that the message of love and cooperation was central to what they wanted to convey. Local minister, Reverand Adam Bradley, of the Cherry Log Christian Church said, “Be Love” as he spoke to those gathered and offered his message of loving each other in the community.
After allowing certain community members to step forward to speak as well as prepared speakers, chants rang out through the downtown area as they continued their demonstration. Before long, a second group had formed on North Main Street counter-protesting the demonstration. Police stepped in to keep the groups separate, and while chants and rhetoric came from both sides, police and authorities maintained order in the separation of the groups throughout the rally’s length.
Police involvement stretched beyond one entity, however. The Ellijay Police Department lead permitting and planning for the event. However, authorities present at the event shared information that support and deputies came from all around the area as representatives of the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Fannin Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement officers from Whitfield and Cherokee Counties.
Protest organizer Pedro Chavez said, “We have had a good interaction with the police. We’ve had good communication. They understand what we’re here to do. They understand that we are here to protest peacefully… We appreciate their assistance, but we are here to protest against police brutality, against discrimination, against racism. But overall, we have had a good interaction with the police department.”
On the police side of the event, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey said, “We couldn’t hope for a better event.”
He added that situations like today are always tense because of the unknown. But said, “The organizers were upfront with us and worked with us. That showed that they had a legitimate exercise of their first amendment rights.” As he addressed in an interview, one of the key points of the event was that the group pf protesters peacefully gathered and shared their message and peacefully left.
Those protesters pushed on despite counter-protests and even a bout of heavy rainfall, soaking many of those present as the stood in the center of the roundabout with only trees for cover. One protester repeatedly offered prayers throughout the event and continued his offerings through the same rainfall. He said he was protesting and stayed because “I think we all need to come together as a community, the police and the people, and put away the hate with love and prayer. Support Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter.”
Many others also offered support for both movements, including Karen Brown, who said, “There is no justice untill ALL God’s people are equal.”
Brown, a former teacher, referenced the “8 minutes 46 seconds,” a common reference to the death of George Floyd, as she too said that all lives do matter, but “right now the issue is black lives.”
As the rally concluded and protesters dispersed, many offered statements saying this is only the beginning and promises to each other that they would see them again soon. Eloisa Rafael also said she expects more, “I expect for this not to be the end of it. I expect for Ellijay to keep growing, keep changing, and understand that we are all equal.”