Carrying restaurant takeout and sipping coffee drinks, small crowds of locals moved through Elizabethtown Borough's center square about lunchtime Friday, looking up only to admire the blue sky.
But six days earlier, those looking up would have witnessed a different sight — militia members carrying semi-automatic rifles while standing atop local businesses as protesters gathered for a Black Lives Matter rally.
It was a sight that had some locals calling the borough police department, “frightened” and “disturbed,” Chief Edward Cunningham Jr. said.
Another rally has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Elizabethtown Borough Park, and on Friday, Cunningham said he didn’t know for sure whether militia members would be in attendance.
However, Niels Norby Jr., a member of Carlisle Light Infantry, said his group wasn’t planning to attend.
“We have not been requested by any businesses for assistance,” he said in a Facebook message.
Carlisle Light Infantry was one of at least two militia groups on the square during last week’s protest. Reportedly, their attendance was requested by local business owners, who sought protection.
‘We have no idea’
During last week’s protest, armed militia members were spotted on the rooftops of businesses at the southeastern corner of High and Market streets. On Friday, a trio of shopkeepers inside businesses on that corner, denied that they requested the militias protection or allowed them access to the rooftops.
Those shopkeepers rent the building space, which is managed by borough-based Preferred Realty Management. Late Friday afternoon, a Preferred Realty manager said she and the building’s owners also are unaware of who allowed the militia members onto the roof — a liability issue for the property management company.
“We have no idea,” she said, revealing there also are some residential apartments near the rooftops.
And if the armed members were, in fact, requested by business owners, it wasn’t encouraged or condoned by Elizabethtown Area Chamber of Commerce officials, they said.
“The (chamber) did not discuss outside groups attending last weekend's protest, nor was the (chamber) involved in inviting outside groups to the event,” chamber officials said.
‘Does not constitute a crime’
Regardless of who requested them, Cunningham pointed out that the rifle-carrying militia members were acting within the law at last week’s protest. Brett Hambright, spokesman for Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, said the same.
“Private citizens legally carrying openly on private property (with appropriate permission from property owners) does not constitute a crime,” Hambright wrote in an email.
Still, some locals, including the Elizabethtown Area Democratic Club, condemned the presence of armed members at the protest, calling it “unnecessary and shameful.”
“Those who called the militia groups in have not all exercised the courage to identify themselves,” they said, adding that local police are capable of offering protection on their own.
Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman, a Democrat, also offered a comment while his Republican colleagues referred questions to local law enforcement.
“In my opinion, there is no need for militia members at any peaceful protest,” Lehman said. “Protesters and law enforcement should be working together to ensure that folks can safely exercise their right to protest.”
And Cunningham said his officers are up to that task. In fact, he said the biggest takeaway from last week’s protest is that things went peacefully, with officers and demonstrators communicating and exchanging ideas.
“Basically, everything went right,” he said. “The only injury we had was sunburn.”