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Planned Protest in Wheeling Canceled After Rumors of Threats

Wheeling Police cruisers patrol outside of the City-County Building at about- noon Tuesday after a planned protest had been canceled.

WHEELING — A protest planned Tuesday afternoon 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 Tuesday morning the event had been canceled, apparently due to rumors of violence against protesters and accusations that out-of-area protesters would be bussed en masse into the city, according to posts on social media.

Throughout the morning, rumors continued to circulate that the buses had stopped at various locations in town, including Generations Restaurant and Pub and Lowe’s, to make threats, but these claims were unfounded.

By noon, no demonstrators, either in solidarity with protests or in opposition to them, had arrived at the planned Wheeling City County Building location. 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 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 canceled,” 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.

“We always will do our best to assure any protest or assembly can occur unabated,” Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said. “However, we will not tolerate outside agitation, nor will our community. … Although (Tuesday’s) rumors appear to be unfounded, I am proud of the community’s choice to not engage, given the potential arrival of outside agitators.”

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.

Early voting in Ohio County was briefly interrupted from 11:30 a.m. until the building re-opened at 2 p.m. Ohio County Election Coordinator Tony Schiffalo said Tuesday had been a slow day for early voting until the closure.

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 cited with disorderly conduct after confronting protesters.

Mayor Glenn Elliott during Wheeling City Council’s meeting Tuesday called Sunday’s protest a “somber event” and thanked Wheeling Police for keeping it peaceful.

“A lot of important things were said there. I think most importantly for everybody in the community, it was a peaceful protest,” Elliott said. “I want to commend everyone involved in planning that event because it did not become what we’ve seen across the country in so many communities — we’ve seen these things sort of turn into violence. But this was a very moving event, and I’m glad I participated.”

Staff writer Eric Ayres contributed to this report.

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