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'Black Lives Matter' protest held in downtown Prineville Sunday evening spurs counter-protest

JASON CHANEY - Protestors Sunday march from the Crook County Courthouse to the corner of Third and Main streets during demonstration.

A crowd of at least 150 people, many clad in black and toting signs, gathered in front of the Crook County Courthouse Sunday evening to stage a protest against police brutality and racism.

The demonstration was organized in response to the death of African American man George Floyd, who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down during an arrest as police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of his neck for more than eight minutes, killing Floyd.

The incident was caught on video by several bystanders. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter and three other officers involved in the arrest have been fired and may also face charges.

The event has since prompted substantial public outcry and prompted protests across the nation's cities that have, in multiple cases, devolved into violent and destructive riots.

Plans for what was termed a "Peaceful Black Lives Matter Protest" in Prineville were first announced on social media early Saturday. According to Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins, protest organizers met with local law enforcement prior to the demonstration to discuss the event and ensure it would be a carried out peacefully.

Once the 5:30 p.m. start time of the protest arrived, 150-200 people had crowded in front of the courthouse. According to Cummins, who spoke to many of the protestors, much of the group was from Central Oregon, though he found less than 10 people from Prineville. The group was led in multiple chants including "Black lives matter," "George Floyd," "Hands up, don't shoot," and "I can't breathe," which Floyd said as he was held down.

Across the street, in the Prineville City Hall Plaza, a counter-protest began to emerge. One hoisted sign read "All lives matter, we are all Americans," and other members of the crowd waved American flags.

That crowd, which grew to around 100 people as the protest progressed, shouted back at the demonstrators during their chants and occasionally engaged in some chants of their own. When the protestors marched with their signs down to the corner of Third and Main streets, the other group marched in the same direction down the other side of the street.

The event drew a lot of attention from motorists passing by the courthouse. Some honked and showed support for the protestors while other drivers cheered the counter-protest.

Multiple law enforcement personnel from the Prineville Police Department, Crook County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police were interspersed throughout the two crowds while other officials patrolled the city blocks surrounding the event.

Once the protest had concluded, about three hours later, it had remained a peaceful event. Cummins said that nobody was injured, and no property damage occurred — in fact, after the demonstration ended, organizers cleaned up the area. He acknowledged that emotions were high and a few flare-ups of pushing and shoving happened, but police quickly broke them up and the people involved listened to authorities and responded in a positive manner.

"I think everything went well," he said.

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