Rumors about violence have surrounded a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Palmer planned for today, but the Palmer Police Department said it has no reason to be concerned about a rally scheduled for 12 p.m.
“The police department will not be present in full riot gear,” said Sargeant Luke Szipszky, responding to one of the rumors that circulated on Facebook. He added that the department had no reason to believe the protesters would become violent.
He said he’s been in dialogue with both the organizers of the event and a leader of a group who asked his followers to come to the event carrying concealed weapons.
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That’s Lucas Howard, a 40-year-old Republican candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives. In a phone interview on Friday, Howard said that he got involved after seeing threatening comments coming from both supporters and opponents of the Black Lives Matter event online. That’s when he produced a video in which he said that he had spoken to the Palmer Police and said he would be attending to provided added security.
“We’re there to pretty much observe. And if things get out of hand, then we’ll go ahead and step up and assist law enforcement as they asked us to do so,” he said in the video.
A firestorm on Facebook ensued in which some people claimed the city of Palmer had “hired” Howard and his followers to provide security. Palmer Police say this is false.
“We’ve touched base with Mr. Howard and it’s very clear that the police department never asked another group to come provide security would never put citizens in that kind of capacity,” said Szipszky.
Howard also denies this characterization. He originally called the Palmer Mayor, Edna DeVries, and offered his services to provide security. DeVries told him that the city didn’t need his services, but encouraged him to come as a private citizen.
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“I said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m seeing this stuff going on, I’m gonna try to make a video out there, like, you know, basically tell people not to bring their big guns don’t bring all their hardware. There’s no reason for this. And she said, that would be great, Luke, I really appreciate that. Thank you. You know, it’s like that. Never was a time that I got hired,” he said.
Howard said he’s encouraging his followers arrive early and sweep the area for trash or other items that can be used to cause destruction, like bricks.
“With other intel coming out of other states, they [protestors] seem to be strategically placing, whether it be bricks or rocks or water bottles full of gasoline or whatever else like that,” he said in his Facebook video on the 907Freedom page.
He encouraged his followers to stay 75 to 100 feet back and just observe unless things get out of hand.
“I’m not a militia. I knew other militias we’re talking about going that’s why I was basically saying, ‘Hey, don’t and if you do go and you’re playing close, you don’t have to look like you’re, you know, a police force,’” he said.
The Palmer Police Department said it had no indication that the rally would turn violent, and wasn’t planning on attending the event unless it is called.
“We want them to be able to say what they want to say and not have to be involved with that. So we don’t have any plans to be present out there for their protest,” Szipszky said, adding that department the station was well-positioned for a fast response, as it sits just a few blocks from the site of the protest.
The Palmer Police Department is in the midst of another scandal involving 2018 Facebook posts by police chief Dwayne Shelton in which he referred to Black Lives Matter as a “hate group.” Shelton was put on paid leave after that incident.
Leaders of the protest declined requests for interviews but the Facebook event is labeled as a peaceful protest and vigil for victims of targeted police racism. Palmer police say they’ve received screenshots of threatening posts, but none of them were specific enough to constitute investigation as a crime.