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Organizers Peter Forbes and Julie Noyes of Rangely told the 20 or so people gathered under the pavilion at Hefley Park in Rangely on Tuesday the event — a vigil to remember Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — would likely be “anticlimactic.”
That’s not what the 200-plus spectators surrounding the park were expecting. Within a few hours of the vigil’s announcement on social media, at least one Rangely resident posted unvalidated rumors on a Grand Junction-based Facebook group warning residents to “be ready for protection” because Black Lives Matter planned to “bring in lots of out of town people.”
Well before the vigil began, spectators — some pledging support for the police department, others making a political statement with flags, and some just socializing amongst themselves — filled the parking lot and streets surrounding the Blue Mountain Inn and lined up along Hwy. 64 across from Hefley Park at the old elementary school building. Veterans gathered around the memorial statue in response to concerns the statue might be attacked.
According to a witness, the only violence evidenced was a shoving match between two of the spectators before the vigil started.
Multiple officers from the Rangely Police Department, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol were very visible on scene.
At 8:30 p.m. vigil co-organizer Peter Forbes spoke to those gathered in the gazebo. Without benefit of a loudspeaker or a PA system, his words were solely for those within range of his voice.
Forbes, who grew up in Dinosaur and Rangely, became visibly emotional when he read a text he received from a black female friend after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
“I’m not okay… I have bouts of wanting to crawl into a closet to yelling STOP KILLING US. So tired Peter. I don’t understand. Why are black people so hated? I’m trying to maintain my head and heart but it’s hard. I have meetings every day, all day… and I try to keep my composure. Pray for me please.”
Forbes then recounted a conversation he had shortly thereafter with an acquaintance in Rangely who agreed that what happened to Floyd was wrong, but added, “the blacks should be thanking us for getting them out of Africa.”
“I was shocked to hear that,” Forbes said in an email exchange with the HT, “…and I left feeling angry and upset. I thought about how black friends and family would feel if they heard that. I felt the killings of black victims like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor should at least be acknowledged.” He added, “We are one country, with many different states, cities, and backgrounds, but even if we are not facing the immediate material pain of racial injustice here in Rangely, I feel we are still affected and have a responsibility to ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15).”
Noyes then read a statement from a Christian musician about what it’s like to be black in America, followed by a viewing of the first episode of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” hosted by former NFL player Emmanuel Acho on Forbes’ laptop.
The group tried to keep candles lit in the evening breeze and fell silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck during an arrest over a $20 counterfeit bill. Then the vigil group dispersed.
Spectators mostly stayed around the perimeter or near their vehicles talking and laughing, taking pictures and videos, watching through binoculars, and occasionally honking car horns.
Rangely Police Chief Ti Hamblin, who was notified of the event by Forbes and Noyes, said it was a good example of citizens properly exercising their constitutional rights. He told HT freelancer Roxie Fromang, “As the Chief of Police, I’m a big believer in your constitutional rights and I agree with their choice to exercise their constitutional rights to protest peacefully. This event was a showcase of our constitutional rights. This group gathered peacefully and held their ceremony and those that opposed them gathered peacefully and exercised their constitutional right as well. That is exactly what the United States stands for and the Rangely Police Department is a big supporter of that. We are glad that this event was able to happen in our community and that everyone was able to do this peacefully, with respect, and without any violence like you see in the larger cities. That’s what makes living in Rangely special.”
No buses came. No protesters appeared. The Facebook-fueled rumors were unfounded, and vigil attendees and spectators remained peaceful.
By HT STAFF | email@example.com