Tuesday, 29 January 2019 20:02

Downtown Rockingham unity protest leads to shouting, hug

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Andy Grooms, left, starts a discussion with protesters Tuesday afternoon, asking why their signs were divisive if the point was unity. Andy Grooms, left, starts a discussion with protesters Tuesday afternoon, asking why their signs were divisive if the point was unity. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM ― A demonstration for unity in the cold rain got a little heated Tuesday afternoon on the downtown streets.

Deborah Conner organized the protest after comments under a post on the Facebook group One mans junk richmond county nc featuring an emaciated dog “got out of hand.”

“Racial comments were said that really upset a lot of people ― and I’m not OK with that,” Conner said. “So we’re going to make it known that we want equality for everyone, no matter what race you are.

“Sarah (McDuffie) took it too far,” she said.

A screenshot of one of McDuffie’s comments shows her saying that she saw more black-on-white racism than anything else on the post.

Judging by her comment, there was an earlier comment about whites drinking urine and McDuffie replied, “... but yall eat chalk and rape and kill your own kind,” and that she would rather drink urine than “be as low, miserable, and childish as some of the s--t i see on here.”

She then said she was going to go back to her “privileged life,” adding, “F--k all you racist pricks.”

Following that, there were calls to have McDuffie fired from her job at Hudson Brothers Deli.

Manager Robin Roberts said the restaurant/bar is not commenting on the situation because it was made by an individual on her own time.

McDuffie also declined to comment.

Conner’s husband, Joseph, said that the afternoon protest was “not a boycott directly of Hudson Brothers.”

However, Hudson Brothers was listed as the location on the notice of intent to picket filed with the Rockingham Police Department.

Joseph Conner also said that McDuffie “spoke from her experience” at Hudson Brothers in the comments and “ended up representing the place, whether or not she was supposed to be representing the place.”

He said the posts started the provocation for people being upset, “but at this point, it’s not about what started the cause … it only showed that this stuff is still embedded in our culture, in our society."

“It’s OK for people to have their own personal opinion,” he said. “What’s not OK is to enact that personal opinion on someone, on other people, to discriminate and throw upset and hurt toward other people just because they’re different from you.”

The small group of seven, including two children, started in front of Richmond Community Theatre.

They were soon approached by counter-protester Andy Grooms who offered a box of tissues.

Donning a “Make America Great Again” cap, Grooms had two signs: one supporting President Donald Trump reading “Keep America Great!!” and the other reading “Free Hugs.”

Some of the protesters' signs read: “Erase Racism;” “Black Lives Matter;” and “Pro Black is Not Anti White.”

“Why can’t you say, “All people’s the same?” Grooms asked the protesters. “It was brought up that y’all were out here to promote peace amongst everybody, everybody’s the same … I don’t see nothin’ about love, it’s all white, black, ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

He then invited them to have “an uncomfortable conversation,” which eventually led to shouting on both sides.

While they denied being those who were trying to get McDuffie fired, one protester ― who refused to give her name to the RO ― said she and those she was dining with were not treated the same as other customers.

“How is that fair?” she asked. “None of us called her job. All of us realize she has a family to feed. But if you work in the public, you love the public … if you don’t love all races … work from home.”

The group then moved down the street, across from Hudson Brothers, where the shouting continued, including mentioning acts of police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system.

Before it was over, Grooms offered a free hug and one of the protesters accepted.

He also proposed another demonstration on a clear day for unity without division and to have a conversation, to which one of the protesters replied she’d file for a permit tomorrow.