Black Lives MatterNews & Opinion

Anti-Racists in Gastonia Clash With Counterprotesters After Days of Unrest

Incident at ice cream shop and ongoing Confederate protests come to a head

Photo gallery of anti-racists and counterprotesters in Gastonia at the bottom of the story. Images by Shane White and Grant Baldwin


Two arrests of Charlotte activists in front of the Gaston County courthouse Thursday ratcheted up tensions during a week of protests and unrest in the usually quiet town of Gastonia. After weeks of peaceful protests centered around a Confederate monument that sits in front of the courthouse, allegations of racism at a popular ice cream parlor near the middle of town set off protests by anti-racists and Confederate supporters on Tuesday and Wednesday night, ending in police deploying tear gas and arresting more than dozen people. Anti-racists in Gastonia also gathered outside of Tony’s Ice Cream to continue protests against the restaurant and Confederate supporters yesterday.

Just before 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, community advocates and volunteers from Charlotte jail support “packed the court” at the Gaston County Courthouse in solidarity with individuals arrested on charges related to the previous night’s protest in downtown Gastonia and to provide bail if needed. 

As they filed out of the court, they stopped to look at the Confederate monument that sits out front, the site of ongoing protests in the usually quiet town about 30 minutes west of Charlotte. Following weeks of protests hosted mostly by a local organization called Gaston County Freedom Fighters, a government-assigned group called the Council of Understanding recently voted to remove the monument, a recommendation that will now be taken up by the Board of Commissioners.

Unmasked deputies add fuel to the fire

What started as a simple regrouping after Thursday’s hearings was deemed something more by nearby Gaston County Sheriff’s deputies, as a female officer approached those in the group of about 12 and asked them not to get too near the flowers that are planted at the base of the Confederate monument. As the group complied, more deputies approached, prompting the group to begin questioning why some of the deputies weren’t wearing masks, and leading to anti-police chants. 

Deputies called the gathering a protest and told the group to relocate off courthouse grounds. Most members willingly walked away, though Andrew Woods stood his ground and placed his hands above his head. Deputies pushed him back all the way to just before the police line that indicates the end of county property, then took him to the ground and placed him under arrest for resisting. Another individual, Otasia Springs, was taken to the pavement and arrested as well. Springs has been charged with assault on a government official and second-degree trespassing.

One deputy chased activist Anthony Ferguson to the other side of the street until a fellow officer took him by the arm and led him away from Ferguson and back across the police line, where the deputy continued to glare at the group. 

Less than half an hour later, Lydia Sturgues-Robinson, who says she was discriminated against for wearing a “Black Lives Matter” pin at Tony’s Ice Cream on Monday, spoke with press alongside longtime Charlotte activist John C. Barnett. The incident at Tony’s sparked recent clashes between anti-racist and pro-Confederate demonstrators in Gastonia. Individuals on both sides of the debate have been openly carrying firearms during protests this week, getting in heated arguments that at times have turned into debates and even prayer circles. 

Sturgues-Robinson and Barnett stated that what happened on Monday, and what has transpired since then, is merely a flashpoint in a long-standing problem.

Ice cream, confederates, anti-racists, SWAT and Christians … Oh my

Nearby, supporters of Tony’s stood guard by the closed restaurant, leaving sticky notes of support and signing a board reading, “#TONYSSTRONG.” They stood on the sidewalk waving Confederate, Trump, and Blue Lives Matter flags. One said they were there to make sure no one burned the restaurant down. 

Christian street preachers set up across the street, saying they had come to bear witness to all and spread peace and the word. At one point a Tony’s supporter mistook them for anti-racist demonstrators and began an argument, putting his hands on several members of the group before he was able to be talked back down. 

The same group of Christians then showed up at the courthouse, standing on the sidewalk near the Confederate monument where jail support advocates had been pushed away, prompting a confrontation that resolved itself and again included some members of both sides joining together in prayer. However, many in the jail support contingent were less inclined to speak with them, noting that one in the group members had a Confederate patch on his jacket and a Trump hat. 

“Cops killed Jesus,” activists chanted. 

The night before had been even more chaotic, with protests taking place at both the courthouse and Tony’s. 

At the courthouse, following a dispersal order, SWAT officers poured out to the front of the courthouse in riot gear and chased off anti-racists in Gastonia, many of whom resurfaced at Tony’s, where they were met with another show of force and multiple arrests were made.

Discussions of peace planned in lieu of continued protests

Counterprotesters showed up to Tony’s in higher numbers than they had at the courthouse, and in one instance a man carrying a bat and waving a Confederate flag walked down the road chanting, “Confederate Lives Matter.” After nearly getting into a fight with another man, he ran across the line of police, where another man attempted to steal the flag. Both men were tackled to the ground and arrested. 

On Thursday afternoon, local organizers with Gaston County Freedom Fighters released a statement on Facebook disavowing the protests of the previous two nights, stating that they had originally been involved with the actions outside of Tony’s and the courthouse on Wednesday, but went home after seeing that multiple people on each side of the issue were openly carrying guns.

Barnett said he and Sturgues-Robinson are planning to sit with the owners of Tony’s “at a table of peace” in order to bring things to an amicable resolution. He said he hopes Sturgues-Robinson, who was charged with second-degree trespassing during the original incident on Monday, has her charges dropped. 

“If we can’t get peace there at that table, then unfortunately these protesters will probably get peace in their own way,” he said.


Riot officers stand in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

An officer in tactical gear. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers pull a man from a car in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers pull a man from a car in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers arrest someone for weapons charges on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers arrest a man they had just pulled from a car in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers arrest a man for having a gun
Officers arrest a man they had just pulled from a car in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officers in tactical gear block protesters
Officers and activists stand in front of the courthouse on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Officer in tactical gear
An officer in tactical gear. (Photo by Shane White)

Swat officer in Gastionia
An officer in tactical gear. (Photo by Shane White)

An officer holds a confiscated firearm on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane s White)

An officer holds two confiscated firearms and another holds one on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Riot officers in Gastonia
Riot officers block the parking lot across from the court house on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Riot officers in Gastonia
Police in riot gear stand in front of Tony’s Ice Cream on Wednesday night. (Photo by Shane White)

Gastonia police vehicle
Police gathered en masse to protect Tony’s Ice Cream on Wednesday. (Photo by Shane White)

Gaston County courthouse
Activists, some from the Gastonia area and many from Charlotte, attended the Gaston County court hearings of the trials of those arrested in the previous night’s protests. As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Activist Andrew Woods stares down a Gaston County Sheriff in front the Confederate monument at the Gaston County Courthouse. As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Anti-racists in Gastonia stare down law enforcement
Activist Andrew Woods stares down a Gaston County Sheriff in front the Confederate monument at the Gaston County Courthouse. As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Confederate monument in Gastonia
A Gaston County Sheriff informs a group gathered in front of the Gaston County Courthouse that they could not be there during hours in which the courts were operating. (As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Activist Andrew Woods holds his hands up but resists walking shortly before being placed under arrest. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Gastonia County Sheriffs deputies arrest a protester in the street
An activist is arrested in front of the Gaston County Courthouse. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Officer angry at a protester
As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff follows. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

One officer stopping the aggression of another officer
As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As an activist retreats, an upset Gaston County Sheriff is stopped from engaging. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Protesters upset after two arrests took place in front of the Gaston County Courthouse on Thursday. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Notes at Tony's Ice Cream
Notes in support of Tony’s Ice Cream adorn the restaurant’s windows. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Notes at Tony's Ice Cream
Notes in support of Tony’s Ice Cream adorn the restaurant’s windows. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Notes at Tony's Ice Cream
Notes in support of Tony’s Ice Cream adorn the restaurant’s windows. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Counterprotesters show support for Tony's Ice Cream in Gastonia
Notes in support of Tony’s Ice Cream adorn the restaurant’s windows. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Confederate supporters gather on the sidewalk
Counter-protesters gather next door to Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Counter-protesters gather next door to Tony’s Ice Cream in Gastonia. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Confrontation occurs between a counter-protester (left) and a group of non-denominational Christians that had gathered to pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Confrontation occurs between a counter-protester (left) and a group of non-denominational Christians that had gathered to pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A confrontation occurs between a counter-protester (left) and a group of non-denominational Christians that had gathered to pray across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

A group of non-denominational Christians pray with a counter-protester shortly after a confrontation with him across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Christians pray over a counterprotester
A group of non-denominational Christians pray with a counter-protester shortly after a confrontation with him across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Protesters pray before heading to the Confederate monument
A group of non-denominational Christians pray with a young man across the street from Tony’s Ice Cream. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Counterprotesters make sign in support on Tony's Ice Cream
Counter-protesters, having made and signed a sign in support of Tony’s Ice Cream in Gastonia NC, gather next door to the restaurant. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

anti-racists in Gastonia speak with Christian protesters
A group of non-denominational Christians speak with protesters in front of the Gaston County Courthouse. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Anti-racists embrace christian prayers near Confederate monument
A group of non-denominational Christians, along with members of the protest group talk together in front of the Confederate monument at the Gaston County Courthouse. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

anti-racists and Christians support each other at Confederate monument
A group of non-denominational Christians, along with members of the protest group talk together in front of the Confederate monument at the Gaston County Courthouse. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

sheriff talks to anti-racist protester about court paperwork
A arrestee during the protest asks a Gaston County Sheriff for assistance understanding her court paperwork. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

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3 Comments

  1. The very negative things they were shouting at the officers were left out. That of course was before things escalated and they were asked to move. But when someone stands in front of me yelling to my face, being very disrespectful and acting like a bully, that is in no way PEACEFUL. When did that become ok? We don’t allow our children to act like that at school. We teach our children to respect authority. I don’t see this happening here.

  2. I’ll believe #blm is actually worthy when they begin to protest the black on black slaughter in cities like Chicago. Until then they are worthless and without values

    1. “Black on black crime” is a term used by white supremacists to try to negate from the actual brutality faced by Black folks daily. Black Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be killed by police officers than white Americans. If you can’t understand how that is an issue that is worthy & valuable then that’s due to a lack of morals.

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