CHAGRIN FALLS - More than 70 people gathered in Riverside Park on Tuesday for a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. The group of mostly teenagers and people in their 20s gathered in the park to demand justice for George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a police officer held his knee on the man’s neck.
In anticipation of a violent protest similar to the riots that occurred in Cleveland and other major cities across the U.S. over the weekend, businesses in the village prepared for the worst. The main drag through town was unrecognizable, with many of the most well-known stores boarded up, including Yours Truly, Heinen’s, Sanity, Hedges and Fireside Book Shop. Dewey Forward, owner of the iconic Popcorn Shop, boarded up his windows shortly before the protest was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. but kept his shop open and later rallied with the crowd.
“This is how America is supposed to work,” Chagrin Falls Police Chief Amber Dacek said of the peaceful protest. “People can gather together and say what they need to say and it’s peaceful and it’s good.”
Business owners, who received an email from Mayor William Tomko about the planned rally, began to worry after seeing the destruction in other communities.
Rising Kenston High School sophomore Chase Tuller, 15, of Bainbridge planned the Chagrin rally to raise awareness about Mr. Floyd’s death while in police custody and police brutality. The Chagrin rally initially was going to have a stage, a pastor, a church choir and a motivational speaker. But on Sunday afternoon, Chase called off the event after receiving death threats and seeing the riots across the country.
“Me and the other co-organizers got calls and threats from people. They were calls like ‘If I see you guys I’ll be sure to have a rifle aimed at your head,’” he said. “A lot of the phone calls were star 67 unknown calls. Some we have their numbers and we just don’t know who it was.”
But people showed up Tuesday even though the Chagrin Falls rally was canceled.
The protesters centered themselves in lines near the front of the park facing Main Street. They held signs with messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace” and “Racism is a pandemic, I stand with you.” The group also used several chants including “Love one another” and “I can’t breathe.” At one point, participants spread out on the grass face down with their hands behind their back and continued to chant. It was a tribute to Mr. Floyd when he was in police custody.
“Everybody that I saw at the protest [was] really positive and had the dialogue. We wanted to make a statement,” Derek Carter, 48, of Cleveland Heights said. “You know, since Cleveland shut down, it’s like shutting down the voice of the people. So my friends and I came out to Chagrin’s today because we can’t protest in Cleveland.”