VANDERGRIFT, Pa. — A protest in Westmoreland County in response to the death of George Floyd has been cancelled after organizers said they received numerous threats.
Cicily Bailey, 19, told Channel 11 News’ exchange partners at TribLIVE she and a few close friends decided to hold the event from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday at Vandergrift’s Casino Theatre.
She created a Facebook group with all the organizers around noon Tuesday, and everyone started spreading the word through their own channels.
According to TribLIVE, when users began posting about the protest on different Facebook community pages, Bailey said the message seemed to get twisted. She said she received a swift flood of criticism. A post on one Facebook page received more than 800 comments, and more than half were negative, Bailey said.
“I don’t think they really understood what we were trying to do. They thought we just wanted to riot and break things,” said Bailey, who lives in Vandergrift. “I just wanted to bring awareness to what has been happening — the police brutality.”
The Trib reported many Facebook users expressed concern that the protest would draw people from outside of Vandergrift who might incite violence or destroy of property. Some said the threats were not directed toward the peaceful protesters, but were people vowing to protect themselves and their property.
Some peaceful protests in Pittsburgh this week have ended in riots and looting, including the first protest in downtown on Saturday.
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Bailey told The Trib she received many threatening messages. One person posted a picture of a box of bullets with the caption “time for a good cleaning of the world,” Bailey said. Another person said they would come to the protest to “shed blood.” Countless others were profane and racist, she said.
“I knew there was going to be hate, but I didn’t think it was going to be this bad,” she said. “That was naive on my part. I didn’t think it was going to be this extreme.”
Bailey and other organizers tried to quell the backlash. They explained how they had obtained a permit from the Vandergrift Police Department. Officers were even planning to march with the protesters, Bailey said.
By Tuesday night, Bailey felt overwhelmed and afraid, so the organizers decided to cancel.
Bailey said she still hopes to help organize a peaceful protest for a date to be determined. They don’t want to be deterred by hateful messages, Bailey said.
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