WATSONTOWN — Protesters again took the streets of a Valley community on Sunday, but this one, in Watsontown, turned more heated than previous rallies in Milton, Mifflinburg and Lewisburg.
The latest protest by the Milton-based, "If Not Us, Then Who?" group turned confrontational early on between a small group of spectators across the street in front of the Mansion House Bar and Grill and some of the nearly 200 protesters gathered at the corner of Main Street and Brimmer Avenue.
That led borough police to shut down the street to traffic for three blocks, Watsontown Police Chief Rodney Witherite said.
"We didn't plan to block the street off," Witherite said. "There was a confrontation in the middle of the street. Things are going to get ugly here."
While small groups started to confront each other later on, forcing a line of police officers from Watsontown and other departments to stand between the groups, no violence occurred, and several people from both sides talked and seemed to agree on some points.
Some of the spectators were armed with handguns in holsters. One protester also wore a holstered handgun.
During the three-hour rally, some protesters made speeches, but all frequently broke into chants of "Black lives matter," "Say his name, George Floyd," "I can't breathe" and "Silence is violence."
Some spectators argued with protesters that the Democratic party and communists were behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
One man with a "Make America Great Again" cap talked with protesters Matt Nolder, of Milton, and Akeem Clark, formerly of Mifflinburg, now of Williamsport, saying politicians are using them to make political statements. The man wouldn't give his name, and other spectators approached refused comment for the newspaper.
"Guys across the street were yelling across the street," said Nolder, 35. "We need to have this conversation. That's what this is all about. From the street level to the White House, this is what it has to be about."
Protest organizer K.J. Williams, of Milton, told the crowd he recalled the comments even when he was a kid, being followed at the mall when he was with his dad, being called the n-word at a softball game. As a freshman at Milton Area High School, he heard the same derogatory comments.
"These things stuck with us," he said.
He said that happens in all area towns.
"Hate is being taught in this area," Williams said. "What we have to do is teach that that is not right."
The sign-carrying protesters later marched through borough side streets. As they started off down Brimmer Avenue, one obviously angry spectator shouted obscenities and "Keep walking!" and "White lives matter!" at the marchers.
Witherite said Watsontown police were assisted by the Northumberland and Union counties' sheriff's offices, Milton Borough police and state police at Milton. Watsontown fire police and street department personnel assisted with traffic control.