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How Activists Are Reacting To Recent Violent Incidents At Protests

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Racial justice protests around the country have mostly been peaceful, but there have been some violent and deadly confrontations, and that has some protesters thinking more about safety. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Portland and Kenosha protests have been in the headlines, but there are confrontations happening in other places this summer. On July 4 at Gettysburg National Cemetery, a group, some carrying guns, confronted a white man wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is real America fighting back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Am I not American?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm not saying you're not, but I'll tell you, Black lives matter, and antifa, they're anti-American. I'm a real American. I know what real America...

BRADY: That confrontation was tense, but it ended without violence. Robert Wall was among those who showed up with guns.

ROBERT WALL: I was carrying a side arm and a rifle only because of what's happened in Portland and everything everywhere else.

BRADY: Wall says he brought guns to protect himself and others if needed. He'd heard rumors that protesters planned to burn American flags and tear down monuments and statues. He's continued to go to protests since then and says his goal is to help the police keep order. But for many people, seeing someone with a gun, especially at a protest, is a menacing sight. For this story, NPR heard from a few people who say they no longer feel safe at demonstrations, but they were reluctant to talk about that publicly and say they'll find other ways to advocate for racial justice. More common among those we talked with are people like Tiffany Matthews.

TIFFANY MATTHEWS: I'm a Black woman in America, honey. You can't scare me for nothing. No racist and no gun can scare me.

BRADY: Matthews lives in suburban Philadelphia and says she started attending protests after seeing the video of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. If someone came to a rally with a gun, Matthews says she would stand her ground but only if she's alone. Her daughter often goes to protests with her. In that case, Matthews says she'd leave. To protect her daughter, she also prefers protests that take place in daylight and those held in cities.

MATTHEWS: Some of the more rural areas I don't really go to because there aren't going to be people who look like me out there.

BRADY: Several protesters we talked with said they're taking more precautions now. Liza Meiris also lives in the Philadelphia suburbs and says she protested every day for a month this summer along a busy street.

LIZA MEIRIS: When the threat of violence is there, what that means is that I have to prepare more. It doesn't stop me from going. In fact, I think it invigorates me that there is more of a reason to go.

BRADY: Meiris says if she encountered someone with a gun, she has a phone tree prepared. She plans to sit down, protect her head and start calling people to tell them what's going on. She's also concerned about the police. She bought a gas mask in case officers use tear gas. Meiris, who's Latinx and 34, says she's been concerned about racial discrimination her whole life.

MEIRIS: This is the moment. This is absolutely the moment that everything is going to change. Everything feels different this time.

BRADY: Meiris thinks the country may be ready to confront its systemic racism. So even if there's more danger, she believes now is the time to keep up momentum by continuing to protest. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.