Townhall brings together local residents and Rainbow Family
Is Lumpkin County ready for the Rainbows?
That was the question of the night at a loose and lively town hall forum in the Parks & Rec meeting room Friday night with the much-debated Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering looming.
The answer to that question depended on who you asked as meeting-goer comments ranged from concerns that 2,000 troublemakers could simultaneously storm the Public Square to a perceived over-aggressiveness of deputized U.S. Forest Service officers.
The proceedings initially began unassumingly with a Power Point presentation by Sheriff Stacy Jarrard.
“This meeting is to assist the people in making them familiar with what’s going on with both sides,” he said. “Because it is getting heated and there’s no need to get that way. This needs to be peaceful.”
The gathering has been the talk of town since Tuesday, June 12 when it was announced that Lumpkin County had been officially selected as the site of the Rainbow Family of Living Light’s annual week-long gathering, an event that could draw as many as 20,000 people to the woods of the Chattahoochee National Forest near the Nimblewill Road and Bull Mountain Road areas.
The gathering will culminate on July 4 with a day long “prayer for peace.”
Since the announcement Jarrard has called in multiple agencies to assist with law enforcement while deputizing 30 U.S. Forestry Service officers.
On Friday he explained those measures.
“We will have a city within a city with no infrastructure,” he said. “… It’s like having another city just popping up all at once. That’s why we have had to increase all the extra law enforcement there.”
LOOKING AT LEOs
However, some felt that law enforcement has gone too far, as license checks and traffic stops have become frequent in the normally low-traffic areas.
Local Brittany Leeds was one of those people.
“Multiple people have said they have felt bullied or embarrassed not by the Rainbow Family but by law enforcement,” she said. “I am one of them.”
Leeds urged Jarrard to take a hard look at “excessive encounters with law enforcement officers which subject our town to possible law suits.”
In response, Jarrard said he stood behind the actions of his deputized forces.
“I can honestly say the ones that have been dealt with have violated the law,” he said “…You’ve only heard one side. There’s always two or three sides to every story.”
Recent activity in the forest has resulted in numerous arrests and citations for non-violent crime including multiple charges for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
One local woman stood up and said she felt profiled when pulled over because she was asked if she had marijuana.
Jarrard said he didn’t know the details of that case.
Meanwhile, business owner, and former LCSO deputy, Ryan Scott said he felt as though law enforcement was pulling over all people equally.
“I know locals are getting tickets just like everybody else,” he said.
PERCENTAGES AND PERMITS
Earlier in the meeting Jarrard said that he expected most of the attendees to remain peaceful and law abiding, but not everyone.
“What I’m being told is there’s a 90-10 rule,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people gathering here will cause no problems. But just like any gathering, it doesn’t matter what kind it is, there’s usually a percentage of people that are causing problems which causes the rest of the organization to look bad.”
Downtown business owner Johnny Ariemma took that idea a step further by asking if local law enforcement would be ready if 2,000 unruly visitors arrived at the square at once.
“Do you have the staff to deal with 2,000 [who could] march into town at this moment in time?” he said.
Jarrard said such an event would be unlikely.
“I’m not familiar with that actually happening at any time,” he said.
Some attendees expressed frustration that Rainbow Family members were able to hold their event without a permit.
Jarrard shared in those frustrations.
“Back in 2008 they were granted the right to go without a permit,” he said. “So that set precedence on that so until that’s changed in Washington they only enforce their policies that are in place.”
The Rainbow Family bills itself as a “leaderless organization” which can also serve as an added loophole for permitting.
“They say it’s the most organized disorganized group ever,” said Jarrard to laughs.
Much of the event was peppered by outbursts from the boisterous crowd.
“What are we so paranoid about?!” shouted one woman.
“Our property values are going to go down,” yelled a smiling man, who seemed to relish in drawing the ire of attendees.
That same meeting-goer also worried aloud that the “Rainbows” would steal the mushrooms from his pastures.
He was met with hearty boos from the crowd.
One man took offense when attendees tried to silence his wife of 40 years and welcomed anyone to meet him in the parking lot to settle the matter.
“Congratulations on your 40 years of marriage,” said Jarrard as he quickly moved on.
However, many called for a more civil tone.
“We’re all Americans,” said one Rainbow participant.”…This is our country and we’re going to gather in the land we own, which is our national parks.”
Fellow Rainbow attendee Steve Wynn looked to ease local fears as well.
“This is the 47th annual family gathering,” he said. “And I assure you that if we had left a mess behind at those gatherings we would not be allowed to gather. We’re in the forest because we love the forest.”
In the end, Jarrard said the event was all about creating a dialogue.
“This was one of the main reasons we wanted to have this gathering tonight,” he said. “So we could squash some concerns and so we could relieve some tensions.”
After about 90 minutes, the town hall came to a close with numerous Rainbow participants and locals staying behind to continue the conversation.
Editors Note: Brittany Leeds is the significant other of Nugget senior reporter Greg Finan Jr. Leeds attended the meeting independently.