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Socially distanced BLM protest fills downtown Missoula
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Socially distanced BLM protest fills downtown Missoula

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Black Lives Matter protesters spread out around downtown Missoula Saturday as the echoing voice of a Black teenager who said he was cornered, tackled and detained by armed men at a previous Missoula rally blasted through speakers and car radios.

“I lived through this, is how I see it. I wasn’t shot. I am alive to tell my story. I’m not a statistic. I’m alive here saying that I need Missoula’s help,” the teen, who the Missoulian is not naming for safety reasons, said in a radio interview.

The rally was organized by BLM Missoula, which recently set up a website with a list of safe businesses in town and resources for protesters' rights. People were encouraged to be peaceful and remain socially distant for the event.

At precisely noon people tuned their radios to either 105.5 FM, Missoula Community Radio, or 89.9 FM, KBGA, and the prerecorded interview filled the streets. The teen told of being tackled and threatened by white vigilantes and then detained by police at a Black Lives Matter rally on June 5.

The teen recounted being asked to remove his face covering, worn for his protection during the pandemic, and said his armed aggressor asked if he was a Nazi. He said he was chased into an alley, and he ran for the courthouse, afraid he would be shot and killed.

After several people tackled and held him to the ground, he said police broke up the situation and then held him down, telling him they would break his fingers if he resisted. He said he had no clue why he was being detained until he was at the police station where they asked if he had a gun, which he did not.

One man allegedly involved in the confrontation, Mark David Belden, on Friday was charged with unlawful restraint and operating as a private security guard without a license, which are misdemeanors.

On Saturday protesters parked their cars, or drove a loop around downtown displaying signs, honking horns, and blasting their radios as the interview played on loop. Others stood or strolled sidewalks, or in classic Missoula fashion rode bikes around the route. The interview could be heard even from across the river.

“It’s really powerful that these radio stations have put up this space for the protests because it’s really important that people hear this,” Lucy Mills-Low said. She stood on Front Street with a BLM sign and a small group of friends and family, all listening to the interview.

“And it’s also crazy to hear that this type of stuff can happen anywhere really, even here where I’ve grown up my whole life, you know?” said Elizabeth Mills-Low, standing alongside Lucy on Front Street. “And it’s important that people know this. And, yeah, I agree it’s good that the radio station is giving spaces for voices to be heard.”

Many signs depicted the BLM fist symbol and messages such as, “Fund Education Not Riot Gear,” “If your bad apples keep killing people grow something else defund the police,” and “If all lives matter then why aren’t you angry too?”

A pair on bikes blasted the radio interview from a speaker and rode in loops around town carrying a sign that said “BLM” and “NO APC” — armored personnel carriers — and an American flag with the word “Antifa” spray-painted across it in black.

One of the cyclists, Jesse Blumenthal, referenced federal officers being sent to cities such as Portland and said, “These are signals of fascism.” 

Lori Blumenthal explained the word “Antifa” painted on the flag for the protest simply meant anti-facism.

“It’s a nonradical point of view,” Jesse said. “My grandfather did it.”

“Fighting Nazis in World War II,” Lori added.

APC referred to military-style equipment used by police, including assault rifles and flash-bang grenades, Lori said. She said she wrote “No APC” to protest the proposed increase in police funding in Missoula's fiscal year 2021 budget.

A group of people, many veterans with the American Legion, and members of Crosspoint Church gathered around the doughboy statue on the courthouse lawn, saying they were intent on protecting the monument from vandalism.

They positioned two signs by the statue that said, “Veteran’s Monument protected by law 10 years in jail $50,000 fine.”

Susan Reneau with the veterans' group said protesters tried to camp out downtown Friday night in preparation for the rally and had to be dispersed by police. Sgt. Michael Hebert, who worked that night, said as far as he knew that was inaccurate.

Bruce Speer, an Air Force veteran and minister of Crosspoint Church, came to stand by the monument because he said it represents the veterans who lost their lives for the country and American values.

“It’s our understanding that Black Lives Matter is showing up here and they’re notorious for creating a lot of anarchy and destruction,” Speer said before the rally began.

The protesters slowly gathered between noon and 2 p.m. around the courthouse, peacefully holding various signs as the interview echoed through the streets. Passers-by raised fists in solidarity, or honked horns, although a few shouted angry words.

“What happened shouldn’t happen to anybody else, that’s what I’m trying to say, and I hope this city learns something from this and there’s change,” the Black teen said near the end his interview.

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