East Lansing School, Police and Community Prep for Westboro

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

The initial reaction from community members was one ranging from anger to shock to disbelief after finding out about Westboro Baptist Church's plan to come to town to picket outside of East Lansing High School.

East Lansing High School junior Ian Hoopingarner reacted the same way, but then took a step back.

"You have to realize they're looking for a response," said Hoopingarner. "They're looking for us to be standing across the street carrying signs."

East Lansing Police and city officials are encouraging people to stay away from the Kansas church's protest on Thursday.

"They know their message is controversial and they're very good at enticing people and if you show up they'll probably make you mad," said Sgt. Jeff Murphy with the East Lansing Police. "We hope that not too many people show up because that would be a positive thing."

East Lansing City Councillor Nathan Triplett say that Westboro makes a lot of it's money capitalizing on the controversy they generate, suing those who assault them and the city if they can show that it didn't provide adequate protection.

"This is a group that's made it a business model to go from spot to spot raising controversy, trying to get people to overreact so they can engage in litigation against them," said Triplett.

East Lansing High School is routing school buses north on Old Hickory, away from the protest which will take place on Old Hickory near the Burcham intersection. Police will close off Old Hickory at Burcham and prevent people from parking in the south parking lot nearby. The Westboro Baptist Church will have one side of Old Hickory with the street, fencing and police separating them from counter-protestors.

Principal Paula Steele is hoping students will go home peacefully.

"We want to have a safe and orderly dismissal of school," said Steele. "We hope that faculty and staff will help students get on their buses and leave peacefully."

To give people who want to speak out a place to do so, All Saints Episcopal Church and several other groups are planning an off-site counter protest in the church's parking lot. There will be other activities and speakers for forums with East Lansing students.

"Let's make this our own," said Emily Dievendorf, Policy Director for Equality Michigan. "Let's come together as a community and not make what they're doing worse."

Westboro's protest will run from 2:50 - 3:20 after which East Lansing Police are planning to escort the group out of the city.

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