City & Government, Community, Creswell

Crowds, caravan overwhelm downtown


CRESWELL – The weekend before Election Day, counter-protesters clashed as they took to the corners of First Street and Oregon Avenue. 

It was scheduled as a Black Lives Matter protest on Nov. 1, after the first attempt on Sept. 27 was postponed due to wildfire smoke coupled with an intense reaction from the opposing end. 

Standing in front of city hall were Black Lives Matter and social justice supporters; kitty-corner, in front of Creswell Library, stood those who said they were defending community values and property.

The protest started off typically enough. Handwritten signs affixed to sticks, political flags waving, with both sides chanting slogans and slinging offensive remarks from both sides of the street.

“You’re Marxist terrorists!” 

“You’re all racists!”

“No, you’re the racist ones!”

“Go educate yourself!”

“Go back to where you belong!”

Creswell Deputy Amy Nixon scoped out the size of the crowd from the roof of city hall, and estimated up to 120 BLM supporters in front of the building and roughly 200 people on the other side. That is, until a caravan came to town from Springfield midway through the protest. 

“There was at least a small attempt in the beginning to have some type of conversation and show support for their desire,” Lane County Creswell Sheriff Scott Denham said, but after a cavalcade came in from Springfield with an estimated 250 vehicles, “that quickly dissipated.”


Within five minutes of learning about the caravan, he said 11 officers responded from a variety of jurisdictions, including Creswell deputies, greater LCSO deputies and Oregon State Police. 

“We were not going to stop (the caravan) from coming into town, so we facilitated a parameter to get them through town and back out. I am not gonna say it was a pretty scene … it shows the capacity we have to deal with a vast uprising without any planning. If we would have anticipated a 250-vehicle caravan, we definitely would have had a different contingency plan.”

The cars and trucks revved their engines, intricate political displays mounted on the back of truck beds as people hurled insults out of the windows to one side and applause to the other. 


“Part of the problem is that it is the final weekend before a major election, and people are treating it like a major election event so you get what goes along with that,” Denham said. 

Tensions were rising and Denham said deputies’ safety was becoming an issue. 

At a turning point around 5:30 p.m., BLM protesters began clearing out. “I think some of them were packing up to leave and others thought they were going to take to the neighborhood to march,” Denham said. 

What resulted was a wall of the opposition, spread out the width of the street, pushing BLM protesters heading out of town. Just as the sun began to set, the opposing crowd, which grew to significantly outnumber the BLM crowd, huddled closely together, holding a 20-foot flag pole horizontally and moving steadily forward. 

“We didn’t have the manpower to move bodies and separate the crowd like we did at the beginning when it was only the two groups in town,” Denham said. 

Deputies were concerned about destruction of property and people clashing with one another, Denham said. “There is a point where it is a time to stop antagonizing people, especially when people that are slightly unhinged, angry and carrying firearms.”


By 5:40 p.m., Deputy Nixon called over the radio stating she was being blocked by BLM protesters from entering her vehicle parked across from city hall. “She said she was surrounded,” Denham said, and that a protester was getting within six inches of her face and cursing at her. 

“As fast as it ramped up it just as quickly ended,” Denham said. BLM protesters cleared out after the larger crowd closed in on them. The BLM group around Deputy Nixon left. About 50 people remained, and some continued to engage in conversation before leaving.

Denham said he investigated a few reports, but “could not establish someone had a firearm aimed at them,” and other reports that he said were so far unfounded. Only one citation was issued, Denham said, and that was from a traffic violation after a member of the caravan pulled a rapid U-turn in front of city hall.


Libby Smith of Creswell was joined by her husband, Nick, their two young sons, and Nick’s father. She said the four generations of Creswellians were there to protect the town they love. 

“We are not here because we don’t think Black lives matter. Everyone’s lives matter, baby lives matter,” Libby said, pointing to her children. “We will not stand for violence. They are not allowed to come to this town and break windows, start fires, hurt people, and hurt people’s property. And unfortunately that is the rap that they have acquired. We are just here to make sure it does not get out of control.”


Tyshawn Ford, 20, of Portland is with Black Unity and has been traveling cross-country to share his message. He was among the first people to walk across the street and initiate conversation. He spoke with the Smiths. 

“People are so afraid of us coming down to start fires and destroy businesses, but only a small percentage of protests have ended that way,” Ford said. “The majority of protests aren’t violent. The only thing I can do is tell them what’s real and what’s not.”

Statements of “Black lives matter” and “all lives matter” were exchanged throughout the protest. One side argued that “Black Lives Matter” is a selfish and racist mindset, effectively propping up Blacks over other races. Members of the BLM group countered that its purpose was to call attention to the fact all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. They cited that systemic racism does not grant them the same treatment and liberties as white people. 


“We are not saying that only Black lives matter or that no one else’s lives matter, just that Black people are disproportionately being put in prison, Black people are being disproportionately killed by police, Black people are not being educated, are stuck in ghettos and are being over-policed, and people need to get that that is still happening,” Ford said. “There are still things that need to happen before all lives can matter.”

Libby said this is the first time the whole family has come to protest together. “I’ve never taken my kids to an event where BLM is present before, but we do have a certain level of safety we feel in this town and we enjoy it. That’s what small towns are about. That’s what America is all about.” 


Ford said that throughout the protest he was met with comments like, “You can show me the facts all you want, but that doesn’t mean I am going to believe them.” 

Libby’s husband, Nick, said that while engaging with Ford was “fun,” nothing will come of it. “It is all one-sided. I haven’t changed, (Ford) isn’t going to change. We are here to show we are not going to be a silent majority all the time when it comes to these issues. I respect their opinion, but I think it’s wrong what they’re doing. I believe the Black Lives Matter movement is an absolute destruction of America and we’re here to show support for America.” 

Spencer Wilson, 24, grew up in Cottage Grove and said he came to the protest to have a conversation with anyone who was willing, and was among the more vocal protesters throughout the night. 

As a Black man in a white family, “I didn’t grow up learning about why my skin is black or about my heritage.

“The reason why I’m here today (protesting) is because the system is corrupt and Black people are being treated differently,” Wilson said. “What I’ve seen myself by the police – not just the police, but by the system within the schools, within businesses, it can go on and on. The reason I’m here is not because I want to fight … I just want peace.

“I want peace within the community so when I’m walking down this road I’m not being looked at because ‘There is a black man in Creswell or in Cottage Grove,’” Wilson said. “I hate walking alone because I’ve had all of the above happen to me: being jumped, having pumpkins thrown at me, being paintballed, being pepper sprayed. That’s my reality, and it’s a reality for a lot of Black folks that I talk to. I’m not speaking for every Black person in the world, but this is my story.”

Patricia Gehrig of Springfield came to Creswell to support “all lives matter.” This was her first time engaging with the opposing end at a protest, and said she appreciated having a “civil conversation” with Wilson about Black lives matter vs. all lives matter. 

“I was trying to get my point across the to (BLM) kids over there that every life matters,” Gerhig said. “Every skin color matters, no matter where you came from.”

Gerhig and Wilson talked about minorities feeling uncomfortable in small towns, which Wilson said was his experience. 

“He said he was uncomfortable in Creswell. I said, ‘Well, maybe you need to get out of the backwoods area and come into a bigger town.’ That’s the only thing I could tell him. He said ‘Well, it shouldn’t be that way.’ I said ‘No, it shouldn’t, but you know, things will change eventually.’


“When I first moved here 26 years ago, I didn’t see a Spanish person in sight, and now they’re all over the area. The Black people are going to come in, too. I said, ‘Maybe you ought to check out your neighborhood before you move into it if you’re worried about racism, and if not, then I say why worry about it. It is a bunch of young kids who don’t know what’s going on.” 

Barbara Jenkins stood in front of city hall holding a “Christians for Social Justice” sign. A member of the Creswell Presbyterian Church, she and her family have lived in Creswell for 27 years. She said that while she loves this town and its people, she wants to raise awareness for social justice, especially for her Black 24-year-old son.

“He has been our son since he was a baby, and we’ve all had to live with this. My son has to be aware every day that he is more vulnerable and he has to be paying more attention. If something goes wrong he is more likely to be targeted. It’s a constant fear, and people just really don’t understand.”

She said she has friends on both sides of the spectrum, and recognized just as many people on the opposing end as on the Black lives side. 


“I know a lot of people who disagree with me, and that’s OK. But it is hard when you are making a point and people feel so strongly against that they feel the need to have a counter-protest,” Jenkins said. “It is really sad that these issues are so divisive. We want to make sure that Creswell understands that it is very difficult for a person of color in this town.”

To people on the opposing side who say racism does not exist in Creswell, “I can tell you they have not had the issue of being treated differently, of being suspect, of having to watch your back the whole time; these are things that are real. Just because we live in a small town in Oregon does not mean that racism does not exist. We have 24 years experience with that,” Jenkins said. 


“This protest is about raising awareness and making sure Creswell understands these are issues people need to think about and give careful thought as to where we want to be. I love this town and I am hopeful that we can learn from each other and actually talk to each other.”

After Sunday, “you get a glimpse of the makeup of Creswell and the attitude with it,” Denham said. “How that will resonate after the election, I don’t know; hopefully things will calm down a bit.”



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