WATSONTOWN — A typical Sunday afternoon in a small Central Pennsylvania borough is peaceful, quiet and rarely confrontational.
When the locally organized group “If Not Us, Then Who?” staged a protest at the corner of Brimmer Avenue and Main Street in Watsontown, several people lined the opposite side of Main Street, one of whom was armed with a rifle, and some of whom who had their own message.
Tensions failed to rise to the level of the warm temperatures, but it was clearly not a typical Sunday afternoon in Watsontown. No violence was reported, though a heavy police presence was evident.
“This is the most opposition we’ve faced so far,” said one of the “If Not Us, Then Who?” organizers, Frank Manzano, of Milton. “We just want to bring a message of love, community and unity.”
It wasn’t long after 2 p.m. that Watsontown police closed Main Street several blocks north and south of Brimmer Avenue as the two groups faced one another. Traffic had already started to slow through the small borough. In addition to Watsontown police, state police and other local police were on scene.
On the east side, “If Not Us, Then Who?” used a bullhorn to initiate chants. “Black Lives Matter” chants were answered on the west side of the street by chants of “All Lives Matter.” Other chants included “Stop the violence, stop the hate,” and If not us then who; if not now, then when?”
Nearly 200 people gathered on the east side, most of whom carried posters with various messages, such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Am I Next?,” “White Silence is White Violence,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Enough is Enough.”
Chants from the organized protesters drowned out the smaller crowd opposite and when participants entered into the street, police were quick to ask that people remain on the sidewalks. At one point, protesters on the east side were moved more toward Brimmer Avenue.
Taunts from the west side were few, but there were some. One person stated, “Get out of Watsontown.” Another made a gesture with his middle finger.
Manzano said derogatory terms were not welcome.
“We’re not going to tolerate derogatory terms, especially at the women,” he said. “Our message is peaceful. It’s the same message we’ve had, it’s the same position we’ve had.”
“If Not Us, Then Who?” has staged gatherings in Milton, Mifflinburg, Lewisburg and Selinsgrove prior to Sunday’s demonstration. The group maintains a social media presence, where it reiterated its position of peaceful protest against discrimination and racism ahead of Sunday’s gathering.
Both sides featured people recording the event on cellphones, and some used cameras.