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Tensions flare, protest erupts outside local pawn shop

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 10:07 PM

Protesters shut down a portion of West Walnut Street near Volunteer Pawn Monday for several hours after a group of people, some of whom wearing were shirts that said “New Panthers,” were allegedly denied a firearm purchase at the pawn shop.

Things reportedly escalated when about a dozen people, who were Black, were told to leave the business, resulting in claims of discrimination.

Several calls made to the pawn shop Monday afternoon were not returned, and Police Chief Karl Turner declined to say whether charges were pending in the incident. Another officer on the scene confirmed that police were called to a report of an assault around midday.

Video posted to Facebook showed a pawn shop employee telling a group of people that he did not want their business, citing the size of the group. 

“If it was two of y’all, three of y’all that’s one thing but it was 15,” the man says in the video, adding that “too many of y’all is a red flag.”

The video later showed a scuffle at the shop’s doors. A woman who was thrown to the ground during the confrontation told the Press she was pressing charges for assault.

Police lined the entrance of the pawn shop property, blocking demonstrators from entering. The protest continued for hours Monday afternoon and into the night as demonstrators demanded an arrest be made. Some shouted obscenities at police — at times with a bullhorn — and chanted Black Lives Matter slogans.

Several hours into the confrontation, a man showed up and began yelling at protesters before leaving. Soon after, a man and a woman wearing a U.S. President Donald Trump hat and shirt arrived and held up a sign reading “All Lives Matter” and “Back the Blue.” An altercation ensued, and the man in the Trump hat was left bloodied. He was arrested. The woman was not charged, and no protesters were arrested, though one was briefly detained. At least a few people were injured in the scrum, including a security guard.

Katelyn Yarbrough, chairwoman of the New Generation Freedom Fighters — a Johnson City Black Lives Matter group formed in the wake of George Floyd’s death — said the New Panther Initiative, another Black Lives Matter group, was leading the protest Monday night. Yarbrough said she supported the protests and hoped to see the protests stay peaceful.

She also said any outbreak of violence makes her group’s job “10 times harder.”

“People love to put everyone in a box, and so I’m in that box,” Yarbrough said. “I am a Black woman, biracial but as far as anyone’s concerned that’s not a person of color I’m a Black woman, so naturally I am in that box and it does make my job 10 times more difficult because our methodologies are policies and procedure and protest when need be, which, of course, protest but yeah … I’m being torn in two different places right now.”