Veterans, bikers and ranchers lined the sidewalks outside of Prairie Hills Mall on Monday evening. Their sea of motorcycles lined the entrance of the mall as social media rumors raised concerns among business owners in Dickinson that a repeat of the violence seen in Fargo could be coming to town.
“We've seen too much stuff happen in other towns and cities, and we're just here to help support our law enforcement and our community ... Law enforcement will do their job if need be; we don't need to step in and do anything like that. We're here to show the community that we're behind them," Biker Brian, with the Bad Pennies Riders Club, said. “We're just going to be here so nothing happens. We're not here to intimidate people."
While rumors persisted on Monday that buses of provocateurs seeking to initiate violence were being driven to Dickinson, The Press were unable to confirm the presence of any such buses in town — rumors that the Dickinson Police Department quelled in a statement to The Press.
“We are aware of social media posts regarding protests in our community and are preparing to protect and support peaceful protesters and the general public from violence,” Police Chief Dustin Dassinger said.
Despite the rumors of looters and rioters coming to town, the only confirmed protest scheduled is a peaceful one, according to Dassinger.
“The Dickinson Police Department has reached out to the organizers of the protest scheduled for Tuesday evening and are working with them to provide a safe environment, so their voices could be heard in a peaceful and responsible manner,” Dassinger said.
Lizzy Henderson, the leader of the Black Lives Matter protest which will demonstrate in Dickinson on Tuesday evening near the Prairie Hills Mall, said that the peaceful protest will take place at 5 p.m and she hoped to gather in unity with the community to bring awareness to the inequalities currently taking place within the United States.
Henderson was clear and concise that the organization’s intentions are non-violent and are not intended to direct anger or target local police; rather the organization extended invitations to both the Dickinson Police Department and Stark County Sheriff’s Office to join the group as they seek to move towards change.
“I want to keep this 100% as peaceful as possible,” Henderson said. “I want people to understand that when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black Lives Matter; we do not mean we’re targeting the cops.”
Henderson added, “We’re not against [the police] we know that our police department in Dickinson did not do what their officer did [in Minneapolis]. That’s why I personally invited them to join us and stand with us for social injustice for George Floyd .… I want to get the message across that we want social equality and that we want to stand together as a community and not be divided.”
Despite reassurances from police and organizers of the protest, Peggy O'Brien, general manager of the Prairie Hills Mall, is preparing for the potential for property damage or violence to occur.
"I sent my guys out this morning, and I said, 'I want you to gather every single thing that is not bolted down. Gather every bit of it' ...I've already talked to all of the tenants and I said, 'At my signal, you drop your gates. You drop your gates and lock them.' It's kind of hard because you want to protect everybody but yet you don't want the bad guys, if you will, to know that they've affected you and intimidated you."
O'Brien said she did not give permission for the protest to occur on her property.
"Their whole thing is that they're staying on the grass, and that's state and city, and it is. The first six feet off of the concrete, that's our property ... and then the rest of it toward the road, that's easement ... As soon as you overflow onto our property, I'm not okay with that," she said.
Despite the objections from O’Brien, protestors are still planning to gather outside the Prairie Hills Mall at 5 p.m. on Tuesday to exercise their first amendment rights with law enforcement presence throughout. Protestors will have signs and use their voices to bring awareness to the situation. Henderson added the goal is for everyone to feel welcomed and appreciated at the event while bringing awareness in a peaceful manner.
“We plan on going until 8 or 8:30,” Henderson said. “If some people don’t get off work until late and they want to stay later, that’s their freedom and they can do that.”
News of the protests spreading online generated mixed feelings among citizens with some lauding the protests as progress and others expressing their displeasure with the thought of a protest happening in Dickinson. Dassinger mentioned in a statement that DPD has taken notice and is prepared to keep the situation peaceful.
“The First Amendment grants the right to protest and is the foundation of American democracy,” Dassinger said. “As public servants, we are equally committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our residents and businesses.”