Protesters take part in rallies in Pinedale, Cody

Tiana Carter (from left), Calli Nissen, Payton Jessup and Gretchen Beerline march around Cody's City Park during A Peaceful Rally Against Racism on Sunday. An estimated 350 people took part in the protest, one of several held around the state in the past week to demonstrate against the killing of a Minnesota man by police. (Photo by Lauren Modler, Cody Enterprise)

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Pinedale and Cody recently as those two cities became the latest to see demonstrations held in protest of the death of a Minnesota man at the hands of police.

Cody’s rally on Sunday saw police join protesters in kneeling to mark the death of George Floyd. In Pinedale, more than 100 people gathered to oppose police violence while counter-protesters across the street held “All Lives Matter” signs during a demonstration on Thursday.

About 350 take part in peaceful Cody protest

By Leo Wolfson

Cody Enterprise

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — Police officers knelt side by side with protestors as armed citizens watched from afar at the Peaceful Rally Against Racism in City Park on Sunday.

In contrast to many riots that broke out after similar rallies throughout the nation over past weeks, the roughly 350 people who attended the Cody rally did not resort to violence. They did acknowledge Cody is a community that, just like on every corner of modern America, has not been spared from racism.

“The basis of our intervention is not our skin color,” said John Boyd, executive policy advisor for Kanye West, who was the closing speaker at the rally. “The basis of our intervention is that we have a conscience.

“What we are seeing today is a manifestation of good.”

The event featured nine speeches, including words from Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker and Mayor Matt Hall. Cody police chaplain Warren Murphy and Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt were also present.

About one-half hour into the event, the protestors – many holding signs – made a perimeter loop around the park. 

These signs came with messaging that included “Racism is a pandemic too,” “United for justice,” “Justice for all,” “Today begins the dialogue of being actively anti-racist,” “Love knows no race” and “Equality now.”

Surrounding the perimeter of the park were about 30 armed citizens, many of whom said they were there to protect local businesses in response to the looting and burglarizing seen around the nation in recent weeks following protest rallies in larger cities. 

But rallies held in Casper, Pinedale and Jackson last week were all peaceful, with few if any conflicts reported and no property damage.

Melissa Maier, organizer of the event, said having a peaceful protest was a foremost priority for the gathering. She took the stage first and stressed this point.

“I’m so proud of our community today,” Maier said through tears afterward. “I’m just looking forward to what can be done moving forward.”

Although it was not a Black Lives Matter organizational event, the event’s motto was billed as “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.”

Cheyenne Houser, who is black, moved to Cody a few years ago with her father from Salt Lake City. She said she never experienced discrimination until coming to the Big Horn Basin.

“The biggest issue is people don’t realize it’s there,” she said.

The recent upsurge in protests over the past two weeks has come in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody, video shows, after being held to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, causing him to suffocate.

For that amount of time, demonstrators took a knee and remained silent.

Baker condemned the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest and said it was an incident that made him “angry” and “ashamed.” He also said a culture has developed among police officers of bias and stereotyping that leads to incidents of brutality.

Protesters demonstrate in Pinedale

By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole Daily

Via Wyoming News Exchange

PINEDALE — A historic showdown took place in Pinedale on Thursday evening when a group of more than 100 protesters gathered at the corner of Pine Street and Fremont Avenue.

The individuals on the south side of Pine Street were there to hold a vigil for George Floyd, the man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police last month, and to protest as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some of their signs read: “The equality state needs more equality,” “Small town ally” and “White silence is violence.”

The march’s organizer, Jamie Rellstab, 20, a Pinedale native and University of Denver student, wrote down the names of other people of color who have been killed by police and taped them to nearby benches and trees.

The peaceful protest was one of the largest ever to happen in Pinedale, a town of about 1,800 people.

“This makes me so happy,” Rellstab said. “The other marches in Pinedale have had 30 or 40 people, so this turnout is awesome, and I’ve talked to people from Jackson and Big Piney and San Antonio, even. I love that people came out from not just Pinedale but from everywhere.”

A counter-protest formed on the north side of Pine Street. Imagine a standoff in a Western film, but with Black Lives Matter protesters aiming their signs north and a group of about 10 men with assault rifles strapped to their chests and an “All lives matter” sign pointing south. The only thing between them was a steady flow of traffic going by, cars occasionally honking for one side or the other.

Bang Johnson, 59, a Pinedale native with a pistol strapped on his side, said the counterprotest was there to “keep the peace.”

He referenced property destruction that has occurred in urban areas during protests since Floyd’s death.

“Rural America ain’t violent,” Johnson said. “Private individuals have the right to defend personal property.”

The Pinedale protest wasn’t violent, but Rellstab, the organizer, said that when she invited people to attend via Facebook, she did receive threats of violence.

“I made a Facebook post on our town’s ‘for sale’ site,” she said. “It blew up, and not very positively. But it did spread the word really well. So actually … shout-out to all the haters, because they got most of the people here.”

Most protesters, a large number of them from Jackson and Pinedale, stood silently on the lawn near the Sublette County Courthouse.

Pinedale resident Megan Anspach, 18, held a sign that read “Small town ally.”

“In a small town like this, people overlook things that happen in more urban areas,” she said. “We are isolated. I think it’s important that small towns come together and say, ‘Hey, we are allies for the minorities and people of color. ... We see these issues in bigger cities and we care about them. We want people to feel comfortable and safe here too.’”