At least six North Main Street businesses were temporarily boarding up Friday, in advance of a planned peaceful protest this weekend in downtown Washington.
“It’s just a precaution,” said Chris Chambers, president of Chambers Insurance Agency, one of the buildings being fortified.
The protest will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 6, in front of the Washington County Courthouse on North Main. Then, beginning around noon, the group plans to march from the courthouse steps to Washington High School on Allison Avenue.
Protests against racial injustice have been organized globally following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, while in police custody. Some protests have escalated, resulting in damage to buildings, looting and arrests.
Washington police Chief Robert Wilson reiterated Friday that his department has no “solid evidence” that people are being bused in from out of town to attend the protest or turn it violent. Wilson and the protest organizers have been in communication for days, and all have adamantly communicated multiple times that they intend to maintain a peaceful protest.
Sarah Collier, Main Street manager of the Washington Business District Authority, said in an email Friday that “we have no indication that this will be anything other than a peaceful gathering whose organizers have taken all the steps they can to ensure an orderly, legal and nonviolent gathering.”
Among other Washington businesses boarding up Friday morning, according to an Observer-Reporter employee who toured North Main, were: the Union Grill restaurant; radio station WJPA; World West Galleries; the George Washington Hotel; and a certified public accountant’s office. Representatives of the restaurant, radio station and hotel did not immediately return phone calls from the O-R seeking comment.
Spouses Pete and Robin West boarded up their business around midday. “The windows are replaceable. The artwork is not,” Robin told photographer Mark Marietta.
Collier said Wilson “recommended” that the hotel “consider boarding its windows as a safety precaution.” That, according to the email, is because of the George Washington’s “proximity to the central gathering place of the protest, the potential number of people attending, and the amount of glass in their storefront.”
The Main Street leader also dispelled a rumor, circulating within the business district, that FBI and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials would be on hand for the protest. She said Wilson has been working with outside law enforcement agencies in case support would be needed – a situation Collier described as “an abundance of caution given the current climate across the country.”
Kurt Adkins, a Washington High School graduate, is one of the event’s organizers. He is a student at Seton Hill University who told the O-R earlier this week: “Anyone who feels empathy for the people of color in this country should think about coming out to support us. You can write as many posts as you want to on social media, but the only way to change is to go out there and have your voice heard.”
Staff writer Katie Anderson contributed to this story.