Extra police will be on hand for a downtown Billings protest Sunday afternoon, but police and protest organizers said jointly in a Thursday conference that they won’t tolerate criminal behavior.
Up to 1,000 people are expected at the protest calling for justice for George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man whose death last week at the hands of police in Minneapolis has sparked contentious and sometimes violent protests across the country.
Over the past week, posts on social media have circulated indicating a possible effort to transport large groups of out-of-staters to disrupt the Billings event. St. John said police have been monitoring these posts and do not believe they’re credible.
“To anyone coming, know that we are doing everything we can to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and no one’s rights are infringed upon… Those intending to incite violence are not welcome, and I’m inviting them to stay away,” St. John said.
St. John was joined at the news conference outside the police department headquarters in downtown Billings by Mayor Bill Cole, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder, and organizers of the protest, Amanda and Ken Palmer of Billings.
St. John referred to the organizers as "partners" in the event.
Amanda Palmer said organizers are hoping to honor Floyd and bring attention to racism in Montana that affects all minorities, including Native Americans. The protest will kick off with a powwow dance and feature several speakers, she said.
Trouble makers will not be welcome, she said.
“If you have any ill intentions, or if you’re coming to rile things up, we ask that you don’t come,” Palmer said.
St. John said he anticipates Second Amendment counter protesters could show up, possibly armed as they were during a recent Missoula protest. He said he’s spoken with local representatives of those groups, and he does not expect problems.
Cole also noted in his remarks that the gathering amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and he handed face masks to Palmer to distribute to attendees as needed.
This rally will be the second in less than 10 days in Billings in honor of Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer held him down with his knee for more than eight minutes. A video of the incident went viral and launched protests nationwide, and four officers involved in the incident were fired and now face homicide charges.
In some places, such as Minneapolis, the protests turned violent. Stores have been set ablaze and looted, and police have donned riot gear and hit crowds with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Closer to home,protests in Missoula have stretched for six days but remained peaceful.
Watch the full news conference below: