Planned Noon Protest in Wheeling Canceled After Rumors of Threats; Small Group Now on Chapline Street
By ALAN OLSON
WHEELING — A protest planned Tuesday in Wheeling ended before it began when rumors of violence caused organizers to nix the demonstration.
The demonstration was planned to be held at noon, but by mid-Tuesday morning the event had been canceled, apparently due to rumors of violence against protesters and accusations that out-of-area protesters would be bused en masse into the city.
Throughout the morning, rumors continued to circulate that the buses had stopped at various locations in town. There was no truth to any of the rumors.
By noon, no demonstrators, either in solidarity with protests or in opposition to them, had arrived at the planned City-County Building location on Chapline Street. Parking spaces on both sides of the street had been bagged to prevent street parking.
“After talking to and receiving advice from several influential individuals in our community, I decided to cancel this event,” Keisha Wilson, of Wheeling, one of the event’s organizers, wrote on Facebook. “This was intended to be a show of solidarity and compassion for our community, but it’s been distorted into something else. I appreciate all the support we had, and I hope you all continue to show that love and acceptance in your everyday lives. Together we can achieve greatness and make our world a better place. It doesn’t happen overnight though.”
By 1:30 p.m., a small group of protesters bearing signs had gathered at the corner of 15th and Chapline streets. Organizer Donovan Long said they were not affiliated with the canceled noontime protest and that they did not expect large groups, partially due to concern that protesters may have had due to rumors of violence.
“We’ve been here for the last few days, so we’d be here regardless of the other one being cancelled,” Long said. “A lot of people are scared, and they have every right to be.”
Wheeling Police advised that a protest or assembly had been rumored to happen Tuesday, and that public safety personnel were monitoring the situation. The City-County Building was locked to the public with wire and padlocks wrapping the doors to the entrance.
Also, the West Virginia State Police barracks in Center Wheeling, which on any given days houses two or three cruisers in its front and back lots, held up to seven at various times Tuesday morning and late afternoon. A person who answered the phone at the barracks would not comment on the apparent increased police presence there.
Numerous local businesses in downtown closed early Tuesday or sent their employees home. Ohio County EMA Director Lou Vargo said that there was no government-based evacuation of businesses or buildings, but that the employees were sent home on their employer’s own initiative.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of people came to Wheeling to demonstrate in solidarity with other protests across the nation following the death of black Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody, when officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s throat for upwards of eight minutes. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder. Floyd’s death, among the latest of a long string of extrajudicial killings by police across the nation, sparked protests which developed into riots in many cities.
Sunday’s protest in Wheeling was peaceful, as dozens spoke their mind on the importance of equal protection under the law and the importance of solidarity between races and classes. After the one-hour protest, numerous individuals left to march through town to continue their demonstration. The event continued to be peaceful on the protest’s side, though one bystander, Steven Weisal, was charged with disorderly conduct after confronting protesters.