Organizer Jennifer Manzo, center, and demonstrators participate in a “kneel-in.” Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

NAPLES — About 50 people demonstrated in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on at the Naples causeway Thursday night. Organizer Jennifer Manzo, a Naples resident and owner of Lake Region Customz on Songo School Road, said that she planned the “kneel-in” in honor of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis.

Manzo said she wanted to show how other demonstrators could act peacefully and show that “as a group of protesters, make sure that people don’t cause violence and hate and destruction.”

When asked if she attended any of the protests in Portland, Manzo said, “no, we didn’t go. We wanted to do a peaceful protest.”

A small handful of deputies from the Cumberland County Sheriff were present at the Naples demonstration. Capt. Don Foss confirmed earlier on Thursday that Manzo had contacted the Sheriff’s Department ahead of the demonstration to notify them of her intent.

“We’ll have deputies monitoring the situation and if we obviously see that it is growing in size, then we have a contingency plan of having folks there quickly to take action if it’s required,” Foss said prior to the event, adding that demonstrators are “exercising their constitutional right.”

In a statement released Thursday, Town Manager John Hawley wrote: “This message is to warn the residents and business owners around the causeway of potential for an escalated event and to prepare accordingly as they feel necessary.”

Hawley could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Demonstrators held signs as cars passed over the causeway, with a number of drivers honking in support and waving. After Manzo and a couple of others spoke, demonstrators took a knee and held a moment of silence. Manzo then asked that everyone disperse in order to keep their promise to deputies that they would be finished within the half hour.

Tiffanie Oliveira, center, with family and friends. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

Manzo and another demonstrator, Tiffanie Oliveira, said that since posting about the demonstration on social media, they’ve received many threats.

“I’m out here supporting the movement for Black Lives Matter. … I’m also out here because there have been a lot of racial slurs and hate speech on Facebook from the community,” Oliveira said.

Despite the threats and apparent talk of a counter-protest, there was very little presence from counter-protestors. A young man appeared a few minutes after the demonstration began, holding a large “Blue Lives Matter” flag and a couple of trucks with “Make America Great Again” flags passed by as demonstrators were leaving.

Manzo said she received messages from people threatening to “plow down” her and the other demonstrators. Several students from Lake Region High School were also in attendance, whom Manzo said were also on the receiving end of threats.

“There were threats from white high school kids toward black high school kids last night on Facebook, on all social media, from Lake Region High School. And it was squashed by a lot of love,” Manzo said. “I think it went incredible. I think that we couldn’t have done better.”

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