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Protesters welcome, but instigators aren’t

We’ve seen the scenario play out during the past week in communities across the country: Protesters gather to make a statement about the state of our country after the May 25 death of George Floyd. They are peaceful — they march on city streets, hold events in parks and conduct gatherings on street corners.

Those who participate are engaging in one of the most treasured and zealously guarded American activities — speaking out against government, demanding change, working to ensure their message does not fall on deaf ears. They are supported by members of the community and elected officials. They are protected by local police officers, even as they speak out about the few terrible members of law enforcement who see their careers as being a way to unleash unthinkable cruelty on those they have been sworn to serve.

Then something happens, and those peaceful gatherings are hijacked and violence breaks out. It is destructive — portions of cities are ravaged, windows are broken, buildings are burned, stores are destroyed.

That’s, thankfully, not been the case here. And one of the reasons why is our sense of community. While it might be easy to incite members of a crowd to violence in a bigger city, it is far more difficult to convince people who know local store owners to destroy their property.

Peaceful protests were held Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday in Steubenville. Those who gathered in front of the City Building and the Jefferson County Courthouse came, as city resident Robert Hines explained, because they want people to speak out against corruption, adding that no one should “stand silent when bad things happen.”

Protests in our area have been peaceful. Sadly, that’s not been the case in other cities, including Pittsburgh, where storefronts have been damaged and property defaced. What’s even more troubling is that growing evidence indicates that the trouble is being generated not by local residents, but by people coming from out the area, people who are looking to create division, people who are attempting to encourage destruction and promote violence as a way of deflecting attention from those who are trying to get their points across. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said during a press conference held late Monday night that many of those who were arrested did not live in the region or Pennsylvania.

It’s wrong, and while members of radical groups have been concentrating their efforts in bigger cities, that does not mean our area will remain exempt. On Tuesday, a gathering in downtown Wheeling was called off after reports were received that busloads of outside agitators were headed to the city. Our newsroom received a call that said buses carrying members of Antifa had been spotted in Weirton, traveling with a helicopter escort.

Organizers of the Wheeling event did the right thing by calling off their demonstration — and the report from Weirton could never be verified.

We must remain vigilant, and work to prevent trouble that is instigated by people who come from out of our area.

Those who are protesting and engaging in lawful demonstrations deserve to be heard. Their points of view must be respected. In our region, that’s been the case to this point — it’s up to all of us to make sure it stays that way.

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