Columbia Community Prepares For WBC Protests

As the protesting of the Westboro Baptist Church nears today, I took a look at how the community is preparing to respond to the protests. The community meeting was held yesterday, but the story aired this morning. The most difficult part of writing this article was not trying to be too bias towards one party and finding the right angle to not just make it the WBC versus the people they are targeting. In effect, I decided to base it on how communities respond to protests like the WBC is holding today. I tried to get a variety of voices in my piece, but couldn’t fit everyone. Read the text below, click here to listen to the story or click here to read on the KBIA web site. Keep in mind, the text below was originally written to air yesterday, but did not.


Members of various organizations in Columbia gathered Thursday at the Jewish Campus Center to learn and prepare for what they call organized hate protests being held Friday around the community. About seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church are scheduled to protest in four different places in Columbia. The Topeka, Kansas, based church is known for protesting all over the nation bearing signs and signing songs with anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-government remarks, as well as picketing at military funerals. WBC is not known to be affiliated with any other Baptist associations. Members of the organizations listened intently to suggestions and asked questions to form what they feel would be an appropriate community response. KBIA’s Tara Grimes reports.

Fighting back against organized hate crimes is nothing new to Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Karen Aroesty. She has traveled the area to talk with many communities about how to handle protests like the one being held Friday. She says her goal is to protect, investigate and educate. Aroesty says WBC is likely targeting this area because the group is looking for new opportunities, although they have been here before. During yesterday’s meeting, Aroesty explained who the WBC is and what they do. She says each community is unique and therefore should handle situations like this differently.

“I do have a very strong sense of what we would like to see the community do in response and I’ll share that,” Aroesty said. “ But ultimately in the end these sorts of things are up to the community. Because in the end, fighting hate and doing community building is going to be best for the unique environment the community is in. And I think given the campus atmosphere and also the diversity in Columbia, I think it has to be a very Columbia-oriented decision.”

She suggests the best way to handle protesters is to give them the least attention possible. She also encourages MU students to stay educated.

“You want to encourage students to independently come to a decision themselves about how they want to respond to this,” Aroesty said.

Aroesty’s message resonated with the Hillel Jewish Campus Center Executive Director Kerry Hollander, who says she doesn’t anticipate any problems. She says she believes many students learned how to handle protests when National Socialist Movement came to Columbia in March of 2007. Hollander says she understands WBC has a right to speak their minds.

“I wouldn’t want my rights curtailed, I wouldn’t want their rights curtailed,” Hollander said. “I don’t like what they’re going to say, but they have a right to say it.”

LGBTQ Community Resource Center Coordinator Ryan Black agrees.

“I’ve never seen any major ruckus the last few times when groups like this have come into town so we’ll make people be aware to a degree without raising any kind of frenzy or fear,” Black said.

WBC plans to protest in areas near Hickman High School, Mizzou Hillel, Macklanburg Playhouse and Congregation Beth Shalom.


I was supposed to go to the protests today to cover them, but my enthusiasm has slowed after coming down with sickness. I look forward to hearing how another reporter covers the story!

*Picture Courtesy of National Post:


Post a Comment

Copyright © Tara Grimes
Web Statistics