People protesting police brutality were punched, shoved, and had their signs stolen out of their hands in a small Ohio town on Sunday after motorcycle gangs, counterprotesters, and other armed groups crashed a Black Lives Matter event, videos from the scene show.
What was initially slated to be a protest of about 20 to 25 people in Bethel, Ohio, ballooned to about 800 as more than 250 motorcycles blocked the area demonstrators had planned to take, police said. Video shows people clashing, often in screaming matches — and then bikers and other counterprotesters turned to violence, one woman told BuzzFeed News.
On Monday, the Bethel Police Department said the event was "manageable" for its force of six officers for the most part, but after counterprotesters began to move toward the protest, there were 10 "incidents."
Protests against police brutality have erupted across the country in the past two weeks after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody and Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in by Louisville police.
Although most of the protests have taken place in the streets of the country's largest cities, small towns across the country have also seen demonstrations against police brutality.
In Bethel, a town of about 2,700 residents, a group of local residents formed a group called Bethel's Solidarity with Black Lives Demonstration, and contacted police on June 11 about their plans for Sunday's protest.
Police said the group promoted the event on Facebook and, soon, they were expecting about 100 people.
Other groups opposed to the event, however, began to organize counterprotests in return, according to a statement from the police department, including "motorcycle gangs, back the blue groups, and second amendment advocates."
"The Bethel Police Department had all six of its officers on duty and stationed around the demonstration area," the statement read.
Alicia Gee, a 36-year-old substitute teacher and an organizer of the protest, told the Cincinnati Enquirer she planned the event in solidarity with the Black community. The day before, she had been marking the street with chalk so the smaller group she expected could protest while social distancing.
On Sunday, however, she said she received a call just two hours before the event telling her a motorcycle gang was lining both sides of the street and people were armed.
"I was really scared because they were carrying guns and they were so aggressive," Andrew Dennis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "They were grabbing me and grabbing my mom and they just seemed to have no respect for the law."
Videos posted by Dennis on Facebook show counterprotesters snatching signs from demonstrators on the street.
Other videos from the protest show men carrying rifles, wearing camouflage gear, and carrying US flags.
One man can be seen holding a handgun with one hand, a rifle with the other, while arguing with protesters.
In another video, a protester is seen being sucker-punched from behind by a man wearing a Confederate flag.
Two uniformed police offices can be seen just a short distance away when the man is punched.
"Sir, I just got punched in the back of the head," the protester tells one of the officers.
It's unclear what the officer initially tells the man in reply. The officer makes no effort to detain or move toward the man who threw the punch and, at one point, tells the protester, "We can take a report from you."
Officials with the Bethel Police Department did not immediately return BuzzFeed News requests for comment. When someone answered the phone for the department's officer-in-charge line, they said "Call 911" and hung up.
In their statement, police said the 10 incidents being investigated include the protester who was punched in the head.
In another video, a protester is surrounded by men in black leather vests on the way to the protest, who tell her, "Get outta here."
"There's a crowd of a thousand people going to be here in a minute," another man carrying an American flag tells her. "I would go. You're gonna get hurt. You're gonna get hurt. I would get in your car. I warned you."
The woman, 23-year-old Destiny Beckworth, told BuzzFeed News she grew up in Bethel and lives only a few minutes away. She drove to the protest with her 18-year-old sister but, after the confrontation, they decided to go home.
"That was pretty scary, and I usually don't get scared in those situations," she told BuzzFeed News. "I knew that if we got over [to the protest], it was going to be the same thing."
She said peaceful protesters first told her the event was becoming unsafe when she was looking for a place to park. When she was walking out of the car, she was immediately confronted by the men telling her to leave.
Her phone falls to the ground as the confrontation becomes physical, and when the video returns, the men are seen walking away, dropping her now-ripped sign to the ground.
After the man took her sign, she and her sister got back in the car and tried to drive way.
The two were again confronted by counterprotesters who saw the Black Lives Matter sign on her windshield.
"I was about to go and this lady saw the sign in front of my car," she said. "She starts waving other people to crowd my car."
A group of people banged on her car, kicked her door, broke her mirror and screamed at her and her sister before letting her drive away, which Beckworth also captured on video.
"My sister started having an anxiety attack because she's never been in something like this," she said.
Beckworth said she filed a police report about the man who took her sign.
"I never knew how bad it was," she said. "I was definitely taken by shock."
In the statement, the Bethel Police Department asked anyone that could identify suspects or victims in the incidents to contact them.
Correction: Destiny Beckworth's name was misspelled in a previous version of this post.