Pinedale Black Lives Matter protest

From left, Ellen Weddington, Ella Volynets, Cassidy Creel and Stephanie Marks, of Jackson, join more than 100 other people Thursday evening in Pinedale to protest the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Floyd’s death reignited a nationwide call to end police brutality against black people, including more area demonstrations scheduled for the coming weeks.

A historical showdown took place in Pinedale on Thursday evening when a group of more than 100 protesters gathered at the corner of Pine Street and Fremont Avenue.

The individuals on the south side of Pine Street were there to hold a vigil for George Floyd, the man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police last month, and to protest as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some of their signs read: “The equality state needs more equality,” “Small town ally” and “White silence is violence.”

The march’s organizer, Jamie Rellstab, 20, a Pinedale native and University of Denver student, wrote down the names of other people of color who have been killed by police and taped them to nearby benches and trees.

The peaceful protest was one of the largest to ever happen in Pinedale, a town of about 1,800 people.

“This makes me so happy,” Rellstab said. “The other marches in Pinedale have had 30 or 40 people, so this turnout is awesome, and I’ve talked to people from Jackson and Big Piney and San Antonio, even. I love that people came out from not just Pinedale but from everywhere.”

A counterprotest formed on the north side of Pine Street. Imagine a standoff in a Western film, but with Black Lives Matter protesters aiming their signs north and a group of about 10 men with assault rifles strapped to their chests and an “All lives matter” sign pointing south. The only thing between them was a steady flow of traffic going by, cars occasionally honking for one side or the other.

Bang Johnson, 59, a Pinedale native with a pistol strapped on his side, said the counterprotest was there to “keep the peace.”

He referenced property destruction that has occurred in urban areas during protests since Floyd’s death.

“Rural America ain’t violent,” Johnson said. “Private individuals have the right to defend personal property.”

The Pinedale protest wasn’t violent, but Rellstab, the organizer, said that when she invited people to attend via Facebook, she did receive threats of violence.

“I made a Facebook post on our town’s ‘for sale’ site,” she said. “It blew up, and not very positively. But it did spread the word really well. So actually … shout-out to all the haters, because they got most of the people here.”

Most protesters, a large number of them from Jackson and Pinedale, stood silently on the lawn near the Sublette County Courthouse.

Pinedale resident Megan Anspach, 18, held a sign that read “Small town ally.”

“In a small town like this, people overlook things that happen in more urban areas,” she said. “We are isolated. I think it’s important that small towns come together and say, ‘Hey, we are allies for the minorities and people of color. ... We see these issues in bigger cities and we care about them. We want people to feel comfortable and safe here too.’”

The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office had a small presence at the protest, but mainly stayed a few blocks away, peering at the action through binoculars.

Protesters stuck around until sundown Thursday, cheering and high-fiving at the turnout and the peaceful demonstration.

“Change can happen anywhere,” Rellstab said. “Even if you don’t see with your own eyes that there are systems of oppression, they are there. And they need to be known, learned and recognized so that change can happen.”

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

Emily Mieure covers criminal justice and emergency news. She also leads the News&Guide’s investigative efforts. She has reported for WDRB TV in Louisville, Ky., WFIE TV in Evansville, Ind., and WEIU TV in Charleston, Ill.

(3) comments

TERRENCE MILAN

Nice if Jackson to lend Pinedale some of its idle.

Ken Chison

For the life of me, I can not figure out how a convicted felon, who has been been in and out of prison several times, and who held a pregnant woman at bay with a pistol pointed at her belly, can receive martyr status. What happened to him is wrong, in every aspect, but, I do believe their are victims out there that may have represented the atrocities better.

Dan F Webb

Very proud of my Wyoming neighbors utilizing their right to assemble without being confrontational or disrespectful to one another.

Much respect to those who were there to protect people and property, both civilian personnel as well as the police.

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.