GEAUGA COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) — Authorities in Geauga County are finalizing security plans for two drag events scheduled for Saturday, and while hoping for peace, police are prepared for unrest.
Organizers of the events in Chardon and Chesterland held a prayer vigil on Thursday, and conceded that they are on edge because of threats of violence from extremist groups.
“When you hear ‘I hope you burn in hell, blood is on your hands,’ that creates a certain level of anxiety,” said Rev. Jess Peacock of the Community Church of Chesterland.
The fact that children will be among those attending a private drag story hour at the church has been a source of controversy and, some say, led to the church being vandalized by an Alliance man, who was arrested on Friday on a charge of arson.
“That’s for parents to decide — what they want to bring their kids to. We need to let people like what they like. And if you don’t like it, that’s fine,” said Peacock.
On Thursday, law enforcement in Geauga County tried to convince the organizers of the event at the church and a drag brunch at Element 41 on the Chardon Square, to cancel due to concerns about the safety of those attending, but organizers declined.
“We encourage any outside hate groups that do not belong here to stay home, which we feel should have been the message from our authorities in the first place. It is not for us to cancel, but for them to cancel,” said Peacock.
As a result of the concerns created by the threats of violence, the church decided to put up barriers along church property on Caves Road, to serve as a buffer between those attending the event and any protesters.
“I honestly hope that there is no one here, that it goes off without a hitch and this was much ado about nothing,” said Peacock.
Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand helped organized the security plan, which is complicated by the fact that the two events are on opposite ends of the county.
“It’s a huge plan and our responsibility is to ensure that not only the participants are safe but our residents are safe,” Hildenbrand told FOX 8.
The sheriff said one of the primary goals of law enforcement will be to protect freedom of speech and expression by those attending the drag events, and those who are protesting.
“That’s their right to do that and, you know, our biggest fear is when people get upset and then there’s violence. We are going to be here in force, and we will not tolerate any breaches of the peace or anybody breaking the law,” he said.
In addition to the large police presence, organizers hired their own private security for each event, which will include the use of metal detectors to check for weapons.