Hollidaysburg: Peaceful protests OK

No major problems reported as weekend gathering had groups exercising their rights

Hollidaysburg Mayor Joe Dodson said protests are welcome in Hollidaysburg but destruction is not.

“I was proud of the fact no one was hurt, everyone was civil and nothing was destroyed,” Dodson said Monday of the gathering in Canal Basin Park to draw attention to police brutality against black men and women after a handcuffed George Floyd died on a Minneapolis street, with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

Dodson said there were people with opposing views out in the borough on Sunday night, and he was glad that common sense was exercised and that the protest

didn’t lead to confrontations.

After a weekend of riots and looting across the country, the Sunday protest in Hollidaysburg brought apprehension that was most visible by the presence of armed residents and business owners, particularly on Bedford Street.

Hollidaysburg Borough Police Chief Rodney Estep said police were “well prepared” for the protest and potential violence or unrest.

“My stance was to allow the groups to peacefully protest,” Estep said, noting that there were two minor vandalism incidents that came in the form of graffiti at Canal Basin Park and on Franklin Street.

Estep stressed people can exercise their rights — whether First or Second Amendment — and also retain respect for one another.

“Anybody here to protest, we’ll respect that,” the chief said. “Anybody that’s here to protect your property, we’ll respect that as well.”

The chief said there were no complaints that came out of any of the interactions between residents and property owners who were armed or from protesters.

Dodson said he wanted to thank Estep and the borough officers for their work in preparing for the protest and neighboring police departments for assisting. Local fire departments were standing by, just in case, as was the Hollidaysburg American Legion Ambulance Service.

“We were very fortunate,” Dodson said, adding he understands it is a frustrating time for everyone. “Hopefully, everything’s going to get better.”

The people wielding guns in Hollidaysburg on Sunday were exercising their Second Amendment rights, just as the protesters in the borough were exercising their First Amendment rights, according to Blair County Sheriff James Ott, who fielded questions that were emailed to the Mirror on Monday by a Hollidaysburg resident.

“It’s kind of the same concept,” Ott said.

“(The) incident made us shiver with fear,” according to the resident, who didn’t want his name used.

He said he witnessed several men climb to a roof along Allegheny Street and took up positions “like a sniper” around the time of the protest.

Pennsylvania doesn’t prohibit the open carrying of firearms, and the gunmen positioning themselves on a roof doesn’t change that, Ott said.

“I absolutely get (the resident’s) concern,” Ott said, adding that if made aware of that kind of situation, his department would “assess” it.

“But if they were doing nothing more than being present — even on a high perch — it’s not a violation,” he said.

Don Witherspoon, Blair County NAACP president, has been watching the news daily and is troubled by the country’s climate.

“The whole country is divided right now,” he said. “Our position is we don’t condone the violence, but the black community has felt oppression. We support a peaceful demonstration.”

Ott spoke to a few of those holding guns Sunday and learned they were doing it to safeguard property, including a business, he said.

None were operating under any agency of the law, according to Ott.

“No one had anyone sworn in or deputized” but were there “under their own initiative,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t have a problem with what they were doing.

“I was always a very pro-gun person and Second Amendment person,” Ott said.

It doesn’t need to become a problem for anyone, as long as both sides “keep it within your own ranks,” Ott said.

“Don’t taunt,” he said. “(And) don’t be baited.”

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458; Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

Events planned

– An original event organized by the Altoona contingent of Put People First — PA was postponed until Saturday, and organizers said they would be joining with another group to “help ensure the safety of all who attend.” An event listing for that demonstration could not be located by the Mirror.

– Another event titled “Peaceful Protest for Black Lives Matter and LGBT+ Rights” was created on Facebook by a group called Movement: It’s Time to Change. That event is scheduled for Saturday from 2:30 to 10 p.m. at Tuckahoe Park. Organizers for that event said it was separate from the Put People First event.


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