OPINION

Something Else: Can we trust people to do the right thing?

Eric Marotta
Kent Weeklies
Jay D Smith, of the band The Living Birds, preaches to both sides of the street Aug. 27 in downtown Garrettsville. Black lives Matter demonstrators, and diners at Garrett's Mill, are on one side, while a group of counter-protesters are on the other side.

At the end of two weeks of political conventions where Democrats and Republicans both made the case that victory in November by the other side would mean the end of our nation, I found myself at a farmers market in northern Portage County looking our country's divide squarely in the face.

The village of Garrettsville, population 2,400, has for weeks had a small group of mostly young people gathering downtown to demonstrate in favor of Black Lives Matter. Almost all appeared to be recent high school graduates or mid-20s — liberal and progressive.

On the other side of the street, there was a crowd of mostly middle-aged and older people sporting Trump T-shirts and U.S. flags flying from the back beds of their pickup trucks.

All around, police stood watch, wearing tactical vests — a canine barked in the back of one police SUV when I walked up to introduce myself.

There was paranoia on both sides of the street.

At one point, the leader of the BLM crowd shouted through a megaphone that there were counter-protesters on her side of the street.

“They're not supposed to be on our sidewalk. Please ask them to go to their side of the street!” she said in a rather loud voice.

The BLM crowd told me about death threats that had been shouted at them from the other side of the street and passing vehicles, as well as in online posts.

They had been gathering every Thursday since June, attempting to make their case.

Earlier, I had walked into a bar to check out a noose someone said was hanging from the ceiling.

“What can I get you?” the lady behind the bar asked.

“Oh, nothing. I'm from the newspaper,” I said.

“Aw hell!” one of the patrons responded, turning away.

“I just wanted to see the noose someone sent us a picture of, but there's no noose,” I told them.

“It's fake,” the lady said.

On the other side of the street, the flag-waving group told me they were worried that the mostly college kids who grew up in their town would riot and cause damage to local business. Also, there was a rumor that  a busload of students from Hiram College was coming to town.

I had to ask, “Do you really think the college kids are going to riot?”

Sometimes, it's hard to be objective. I mean, there were about 12 kids carrying signs in front of a used book store. They didn't look like they were about to ravage the town.

In addition to checking out the protests, I had been taking photos and shopping at the local farmers market — coincidentally the last day of its season. 

If it wasn't for the contrary attitudes of the crowds facing off just a half block away, it would have been a very nice day.

Back at the protests, I wore a face mask, or kept a good distance while talking. The BLM crowd was fully masked. The counter protesters were all bare-faced as they rolled out a large Trump election banner and crowded together to pose for my photo.

It's not just race that is dividing our country. The response to COVID-19 has been mixed.

Some people don't seem to think it's a problem, despite mandatory face mask order, business closures and millions of laid off and unemployed people across the country.

School officials are taking it seriously, having spent weeks over the summer trying to figure out how to get kids back into classrooms and learning.

The news hasn't been that great. In recent weeks, some universities that have welcomed students back have had to close back down due to positive cases.

And during the first week of school in Aurora, five school teachers were quarantined after one of them tested positive and potentially exposed the others before class started.

Aurora Superintendent Mike Roberto and board of education president Gerald Kohansky were both forthcoming when they explained the situation. It was Roberto's second month in his new role for the district, and his tenure looks quite promising.

In my opinion, based on some years in the news business, Roberto's response likely prevented quite a few rumors from circulating, which likely would have led to bad feelings among families concerned about their children's health and the health of their loved ones in face of this pandemic.

Likewise, some health departments have offered weekly news releases on the situation and ready access to officials who have the answers, or who can at least respond directly to questions.

When people are faced with uncertainty, officials must fill that gap with information.

On the other hand, it's up to individuals to educate themselves on issues.

I don't think the country will be destroyed if Trump is reelected, or if Biden wins the election.

Our intolerance will destroy us — bolstered by our willful decision to ignore or hide facts, and our embrace of ignorance.

However, it would help to realize that most people, deep down, are basically good.

Eric Marotta can be reached at emarotta@recordpub.com.