Several of the regular protesters who take part in the "Kneel at Noon" event weekdays at noon were concerned about an incident that occurred Thursday, Sept. 3. A man who purportedly spent a good deal of time goading the silent protesters had said he'd be back Friday with other counter-protesters.
That may have indeed been viewed by peaceful kneelers as an intimidation tactic. A video of the event is available on the Tahlequah Daily Press website, and viewers can judge for themselves. But there's no doubt that someone concerned with highlighting the "Black Lives Matter" movement might feel uncomfortable with in-your-face behavior from anyone who vigorously objected to the concept.
Word got out, as it always does - thanks both to social media and regular outlets like TDP. The crowd was much larger Friday, and included a number of folks who don't regularly participate due to COVID-19 or other commitments, but they wanted to be on hand just in case the man returned with a group of friends, and in case anyone became aggressive.
It should be noted that among the Friday kneelers were Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron and a couple of other dignitaries. And local law enforcement officials - who have openly expressed their support for Kneel at Noon and other activities protected by the First Amendment - were also keeping a watchful eye on the situation.
As it turned out - and to the surprise of no one familiar with such activities - the fellow didn't show back up, although at least one protester said she thought she saw his vehicle cruise by Norris Park at the appropriate time. Perhaps he figures he made his point; at least, that's what some with access to his Facebook timeline suggested.
It's not clear whether his point was to denigrate the kneeling or the BLM movement or anything deemed a "liberal" cause, or whether it was to prove he had a right to be at the park at the same time. If it was the latter, he's correct.
While officers are intent on protecting protesters from harm, they also point out that counterprotests have just as much validity as protests, just as long as they are peaceful. Perhaps the man was hoping to provoke someone into a confrontation, and it almost worked; the video shows one woman giving back as much as she got.
There are two takeaways from last week's incident. First, even if protesters found that man's message and behavior repugnant, he had a right to be there. Second, those who are intent on spreading a legitimate message of peace and harmony should never rise to the bait. There's no reason to stoop to the level of a potential troublemaker, or respond to perceived anger in kind. Doing so sullies the original intent - which in the minds of most people of goodwill, is positive.
Unfortunately, there are always going to be malcontents in any community who seek to divide and wreak havoc. The rest of us can't let that small group prevent us from moving forward and doing the right thing.