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In wake of tense protest Monday, city officials meet with activists for third time to discuss reforms

Jonathan Roberts and David Floyd • Jul 1, 2020 at 9:37 AM

Johnson City officials and New Generation Freedom Fighters activists met for the third time in as many weeks on Tuesday — a meeting that comes after a tense protest on Monday that saw one counter-protester arrested after a scuffle with demonstrators.

“We stuck to the agenda today, so today’s meeting was very informative and I think it went well,” NGFF Chair Katelyn Yarbrough said.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on the city budget, with Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock telling the Press Tuesday afternoon that the city has “been working really, really hard to reach a very good level of understanding” with members of the New Generation Freedom Fighters, a group that has led a series of demonstrations, prayer vigils and marches since the police killing of George Floyd ignited nationwide protests against police brutality.

Monday’s protest, one of the most tense since demonstrations in the city started in May, began after an employee at Volunteer Pawn refused to sell firearms to a group of people wearing “New Panthers” t-shirts, which the group claimed was evidence of racial discrimination. Tensions came to a head when a woman who was with the group was taken to the ground by a man affiliated with the business, later identified as Daryl Lovelace.

Lovelace was issued a criminal summons for simple assault later that afternoon as protesters continued to gather outside of his business. 

During the protest that began after the initial confrontation, counter-protesters arrived, spawning another fight that left one counter-protester bloodied and in handcuffs. The man, identified as Randall Gray, was charged with disorderly conduct. Monday’s protest involved members of another group, the New Panther Initiative, which is separate from the New Generation Freedom Fighters, although both groups offer support to each other. 

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said city officials have been moving down a positive road with the New Generation Freedom Fighters, but called the “skirmish” on Monday disappointing. Brock added that a number of young people were also at the protest on Monday and urged Johnson City parents keep their kids home during this period.

“Having young people out there, they’re very influenceable by other people and groups,” she said.

On Monday, Yarbrough said that any violence or altercations at protests makes her job “10 times harder,” but said they can’t let any negativity, misconceptions or misinterpretations about the movement and its goals derail the systemic change they’re fighting for.

“You can’t just keep putting bandaids on things, so when something pops up try and derail the progress or deface the movement — we just have to get out in front of it and beat them to the ink and make sure that the progress is not being overlooked and also try to address those issues that are causing the derailment and miscommunication and misinterpretation of the movement,” Yarbrough said. “People are painting every Black person with a broad brush, and that is irresponsible and unacceptable, and that’s part of the societal issues that are going to need to be changed.”

Brock said the city has been developing a plan to address some of the concerns of the New Generation Freedom Fighters, and she was encouraged that Monday’s protest dispersed peacefully.

“We always need to improve our city and ... we made a commitment to work with them to do that,” Brock said.

Yarbrough said the group was encouraged that, even after Monday’s protest, they were able to have a productive meeting. 

“We definitely have hope,” Yarbrough said. “We do support everyone that’s in this movement, because it’s not just for us individually. It’s for all people of color and from the Black community, and in the end these changes are going to affect everyone regardless of your race, gender or your creed.

“It’s going to change everything, and so we have no choice but to keep moving forward regardless of the negativity that’s popping out of the woodwork left and right.” 

Going forward, Yarbrough said they will continue pushing for change, holding demonstrations if needed and community outreach events to help educate the public about the organization and its goals. 

“We are definitely going to take a harder turn into the political realm, as far as meeting with these officials,” Yarbrough said. 

City officials and NGFF members will meet again on Tuesday. Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.