ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Dozens of people gathered Saturday in Orange Park for a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally, and a group of Blue Lives Matter supporters counter-demonstrated across the street.
The opposing groups were gathered near the corner of Blanding Boulevard and Kingsley Avenue.
“We are only asking to be treated as equals. That is all Black people are asking right now is for equality,” said Leah Billings, a Jacksonville resident who showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement. “This is a peaceful movement, but this is a movement. It’s not a moment. It’s a movement. We will get our civil rights at the end of this. We have marched for 400 years.”
Billings said her message is inclusive.
“We don’t want any violence against police. We are not against police. We are just asking the police to treat us the same way they would treat a white individual when they arrest them,” Billings said. “That’s all we’re asking for. We’re not against police.”
Billings was wearing a body-worn camera and said it was “100% for safety concerns.”
“Some of my friends went out to the first protests in Downtown Jacksonville and were assaulted by police officers and their phones were broken and there was no video evidence of it,” Billings said. “So every protest I have gone to since the first ones, I am always wearing a Live GoPro camera.”
Sharing the sidewalk with Billings was Norm Brewer, a Jacksonville resident who said the country can’t remain divided any longer.
“I support Blue Lives Matter, actually I support all lives matter,” Brewer said. “These people do not scare me, and I don’t think I scare them, and we have had some dialogue.”
Brewer said it’s hard to separate the ideals of the movement from politics.
“Well, I don’t think there’s a distinction between any of the three (Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, political signs). In conversation, they are all meshed together and to try to separate them at any point in time, it’s going to dilute the conversation because, let’s be real, they all are part of the same conversation,” Brewer said.
Across Blanding Boulevard was a group opposing the Black Lives Matter demonstration. But the two did not openly clash.
“Today went really well. They stayed on their side. We have stayed on our side. We voiced our opinion; they voiced their opinion,” said Jacksonville resident Joe Woodard.
Clay County resident Sonny Lafontaine said he was driving by and saw the Blue Lives Matter demonstrators and stopped.
“I had my Trump flag in my truck, so I pulled over and got out and helped support them, cops and this country. This is a great country,” Lafontaine said. “What other country can you be able to come from nothing. That story is not only for white people only -- it’s for all colors. Many people have been able to make something out of their lives in America.
The rallies also attracted people who referred to themselves as legal observers.
“I support anyone exercising their First Amendment rights to this constitution and oppose anyone whose constitutional rights are being infringed upon,” Jacksonville resident Brandy Durham said.