For the first time in Morgantown, tensions ran high during a gathering of Black Lives Matter supporters, at least the sixth in the past two weeks, after a dispute with a group of motorcyclists.
They drove through the crowd, blocking High Street at Walnut Street, went around the block, parked and confronted the group.
Just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, three motorcyclists were traveling down High Street. The lead biker made a motion for the protesters to move out of the way before driving through the group, almost hitting several people. The other two bikes followed directly behind.
After parking, two of the men driving came over to confront the Black Lives Matter group.
“I don’t appreciate being smacked in the head,” one of the bikers said, accusing a protestor of hitting him with a sign as he drove by.
Another asked how hard it was to “do this,” as he stepped off the street onto the curb and said they weren’t trying to hit anybody.
While the exchange was tense, it did not end with violence. The bikers left after about five minutes.
The bikers weren’t the only motorists to almost hit a protester. A man driving a Volkswagen was given a ticket after he quickly turned onto Walnut Street from the far left lane and almost hit the woman speaking in front of the crowd.
A Morgantown Police officer in his car saw the event and immediately hit his lights and sirens, pulling the Volkswagen over and drawing cheers.
Except for those two events, the atmosphere was, as always, one of positivity, education, shared pain and support.
One black man leaned out of his car, said he was 65, protested in the 60s and 70s and thanked the young people for what they were doing. Dozens and dozens of cars honked in support, even as they had to detour around the blocked road.
“This is unparalleled times for me,” said Eric Murphy, 50, who brought up how many different groups were coming together to support Black lives in their community.
“Which is exactly what needs to happen,” he said. “And community support is very Appalachian also. That’s what we do here.”
Murphy works for the West Virginia University Center for Service and Learning, which has a social action clinic that supports students with experts, resources and sometimes financial support to help actualize social action.
“I think the message is persistence,” Murphy said. “I think the only thing that really creates a social action or social change is persistence and deliberate behavior to initiate this change.”
Another protest is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Raymond J. Lane Park, next to the Erickson Alumni Center.
“This is not a moment,” said Hawa Diawara, 18. “This is a movement. If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be here.”
Even an elected official, Del. Danielle Walker, who has consistently shown up at the protest, said she didn’t feel like her life mattered.
“And if you give me that all lives matter bullcrap, I’ma tell you; I was raised in the dirty south. I was raised in the Jim Crow south,” she said. “My life ain’t never mattered. Not even when I was in the womb. That’s the hard truth. I am an elected official; name on the ballot, and my life still don’t matter. My presence still don’t matter.”
She encouraged everyone to call out racists, because where there is racism, there are racists.
One young black man shared how he couldn’t get his white friends, who said they supported him, to come protest. It hurts, he said.
“They’re not your friends,” the crowd responded.