Don’t engage with Westboro protesters, officials urge
Lawmen, educators prepare for planned Westboro picketing
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
While area law enforcement agencies are gearing up for today’s planned picketing by members of an anti-gay group known for picketing soldiers’ funerals, some officials are offering simple advice: ignore them.
“I think the best way to devalue these people is to not be there,” Cole County Sheriff Greg White said. “If they have no audience, it’s a non-event.”
Westboro Baptist Church members plan to picket at the Capitol from 1:15-1:45 p.m. to protest Gov. Jay Nixon’s involvement with the unrest in Ferguson, after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager. Then they plan to be at Lincoln University (LU) from 2-2:30 p.m. and at Jefferson City High School (JCHS) from 2:45-3:15 p.m.
“We don’t have to agree with petitioners, but they do have the legal right under the Constitution to share their views,” Amy Berendzen, spokeswoman for Jefferson City Public Schools, said in a statement.
Her statement urged students and parents not to engage the group: “Acknowledgement of their presence will only empower them. If we ignore them, their efforts are for naught.”
The LU and JCHS pickets target homosexuality, while also referencing the events in Ferguson. “Satan’s schools are force feeding this generation of children a toxic diet of ‘it’s ok to be gay’… .” Westboro said on its website.
It also said the school is “teaching the youth of this nation to hate God.”
LU’s spokeswoman Misty Young said Westboro is known for being “inflammatory.” She said the purpose of attending LU is to learn and grow intellectually.
“A form of growth is understanding not to engage those who wish to create unrest,” Young said.
The university is hosting freshman orientation this week, but classes won’t start until next week.
Area agencies were mostly tight-lipped on Monday regarding how they would handle the protests.
Jefferson City police Capt. Doug Shoemaker said protesters and counter-protesters will be limited to public sidewalks, “as long as they don’t obstruct traffic or other pedestrians.”
He said police haven’t had many problems at similar past events, and is confident the community will maintain a “peaceful atmosphere” for this event.
At JCHS, protesters will be limited to public easements and sidewalks, Berendzen said. “Therefore, they will not be on school grounds Tuesday. JCPD will be directing protesters to a location where they will have limited contact with our students.”
Capt. Tim Hull, spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol, said he believes LU police will handle the issues on their campus, while JCPD will handle the pickets at the high school and Capitol Police will staff the Capitol event.
“Troop F will have officers available to respond should the need arise,” he said in an emailed response to questions.
The Jefferson City Police Department isn’t specifying what presence it will have, and White declined to say whether Cole County deputies have been asked to assist.
Capitol Police wouldn’t answer questions on the matter, and Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, didn’t respond to inquiries on Sunday and Monday.
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