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Tensions flare as supporters, protesters face off outside Trump rally

Protesters fill Boulder Ave. after Tulsa Police fired pepper balls at them after President Donald Trump's campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Saturday, June 20, 2020

Protesters fill Boulder Ave. after Tulsa Police fired pepper balls at them after President Donald Trump's campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Saturday, June 20, 2020   | Photo Credit: AP

While Trump spoke onstage, protesters carried a paper-mache representation of him with a pig snout.

President Donald Trump’s supporters faced off with protesters shouting “Black Lives Matter” Saturday in Tulsa as the President held his first campaign rally in months amid public health concerns about the coronavirus and fears that the event could lead to violence in the wake of killings of Black people by police.

Later in the evening, a group of armed men began following the protesters. When the protesters blocked an intersection, a man wearing a Trump shirt got out of a truck and spattered them with pepper spray. Police later deployed an irritant gas to try and make the group disperse.

The Trump faithful gathered inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center for what was believed to be the largest indoor event in the country since restrictions to prevent the COVID-19 virus began in March. Many of the president’s supporters weren’t wearing masks, despite the recommendation of public health officials to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Some had been camped near the venue since early in the week.

Turnout at the rally was lower than the campaign predicted, with a large swath of standing room on the stadium floor and empty seats in the balconies. Trump had been scheduled to appear at a rally outside of the stadium within a perimeter of tall metal barriers, but that event was abruptly cancelled.

Protesters are kept back by members of the Oklahoma National Guard at 6th St. and Dever Ave. on the perimeter of President Donald Trump's campaign rally at the BOK Center Saturday, June 20, 2020

Protesters are kept back by members of the Oklahoma National Guard at 6th St. and Dever Ave. on the perimeter of President Donald Trump's campaign rally at the BOK Center Saturday, June 20, 2020   | Photo Credit: AP

 

Trump campaign officials said protesters prevented the President’s supporters from entering the stadium. Three Associated Press journalists reporting in Tulsa for several hours leading up to the President’s speaking did not see protesters block entry to the area where the rally was held.

While Trump spoke onstage, protesters carried a paper-mache representation of him with a pig snout. Some in the multiracial group wore Black Lives Matter shirts, others sported rainbow-colored armbands, and many covered their mouths and noses with masks. At one point, several people stopped to dance to gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s song “Revolution.”

The protesters blocked traffic in at least one intersection. Some Black leaders in Tulsa had said they were worried the visit could lead to violence. It came amid protests over racial injustice and policing across the U.S. and in a city that has a long history of racial tension. Officials had said they expected some 100,000 people downtown.

There was also an undercurrent of tension near the entrance to the secured area, where Trump supporters and opponents squared off. Several downtown businesses boarded up their windows as well to avoid any potential damage.

Across the street, armed, uniformed highway patrol troopers milled about a staging area in a bank parking lot with dozens of uniformed National Guard troops.

Tulsa has seen cases of COVID-19 spike in the past week, and the local health department director asked that the rally be postponed. But Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said it would be safe. The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday denied a request that everyone attending the indoor rally wear a mask, and few in the crowd outside Saturday were wearing them.

The Trump campaign said six staff members helping prepare for the event tested positive for COVID-19. They were following “quarantine procedures” and wouldn’t attend the rally, said Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director.

Inside the barriers, the campaign was handing out masks and said hand sanitizer also would be distributed and that participants would undergo a temperature check. But there was no requirement that participants use the masks.

Teams of people wearing goggles, masks, gloves and blue gowns were checking the temperatures of those entering the rally area. Those who entered the secured area were given disposable masks, which most people wore as they went through the temperature check. Some took them off after the check.

The rally originally was planned for Friday, but was moved after complaints that it coincided with Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., and in a city that was the site of a 1921 race-related massacre, when a white mob attacked Blacks, leaving as many as 300 people dead.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 3:39:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/tensions-flare-as-supporters-protesters-face-off-outside-trump-rally/article31881581.ece

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