"Protest zones" enabled for July 21 rally in Paris

Lamar County – Lamer County Commissioners Monday established "protest zones" for both black and white activists expected to hold demonstrations July 21 at the courthouse.

At a recent protest, activists issued flyers promoting the rally for the African American cause. Reports have surfaced that members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Skinheads may show as well to voice their opinion.

The protest is regarding the recent dismissal of murder charges against two white men, Shannon Finley and Ryan Crostley, who were accused of killing Brandon McClelland, who is black, in September, 2008. A special prosecutor had asked in early June the charges be dropped citing a lack of evidence. Local civil rights activists had denounced the case as a racially-inspired hate crime.

"This is purely the criminal law system working, there's no prejudice here," says Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville. "It was tough unfortunate situation where that young man was killed, but law enforcement just doesn't have the facts to bring a prosecution forward. That is not the same thing as a racially motivated bias."

Lamar County Commissioners have decided to station all protestors for the African American cause just outside of the courthouse front lawn and all counter protestors in the parking lot just northeast of the courthouse, across from Main Street.

"The idea was to create a physical separation of the two parties," says Superville.

"Peace officers will be present. If one of the other protestors gets in the wrong protest zone they will be asked to go to the other protest zone. If they don't do that and the officer feels it's approaching a breach of the peach then the officer will do their duty."

It is unclear what time the protest is going to be held.

"The basic issue that we wrestled with was the protestors, white and black, have a first amendment right to peaceably assemble, and to exercise their free speech. We wanted them to do that in a way that was safe for everyone."

According to Superville, white protestors want to be heard by black protestors and black protestors want to protest to the courthouse.

"You can come and go outside the protest zone but you cannot protest outside the protest zone because we do not want a breach of the peace. They have a right to be heard, but not a right to breach the peace."

About 100 protestors are expected to show, although Lamar County has learned that counter protestor interest is waning, and perhaps fewer people will attend.

In recent protests at the courthouse, there have been no incidents related to public safety. Judge Superville does note, however, there have been some close calls. That mostly relates to the amount of foul language used.

"It'll be a professional call of the peace officers to determine as to whether the language is a breach of the peace or whether it's in anguish."

The protest will be patrolled primarily by Paris Police, but there will be some troopers on scene.

"As people look into this they just aren't seeing the racial bias that's being said about us," says Superville. "Even the way this demonstration and how we've accommodated them I think indicates that we are sensitive to their needs and aren't doing anything to suppress their rights."