Demonstrators protest pride storytime event; county officials say there was “no disturbance inside the building”

Demonstrators protest pride storytime event; county officials say there was “no disturbance inside the building”
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 12:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 11:23 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Several demonstrators showed up to the Pine Valley branch of the New Hanover County Public Library during a Pride Storytime event on Tuesday, June 21.

The Pride Storytime featured two children’s books, “Daddy and Dada” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” and an activity for the children to make their own family picture frame.

A New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office release said the demonstrators gathered outside of the library before entering a building. A deputy was called to the library for a disturbance, and it says a sheriff’s office supervisor stood outside the room where the Storytime program was taking place to keep protestors from entering.

“A Sheriff’s Office supervisor entered the library and positioned himself between the private room holding the reading and the demonstrators. The supervisor instructed the demonstrators that they were not allowed to enter the room. At no time did Sheriff Deputies witness nor did any library staff report any of the demonstrators causing a disturbance within the library or try to enter the private room that was holding the reading. After the reading, all the participants left the library with no incident,” writes the NHCSO in a release.

A spokesperson with the NHCSO later confirmed that there was an argument between two people outside of the library around 5:17 p.m.. A woman against the protesters was blowing a whistle in a man’s face. After multiple whistle blows, the man pushed the woman’s hand, holding the whistle, away. The woman then reached for her pepper spray and attempted to spray the man, but he swatted the pepper spray out of her hand and no one was hit with the pepper spray. Deputies spoke with both individuals and no further action was taken.

A statement from Linda Thompson, the Chief Diversity and Equity Officer for the county, also says no disturbance happened inside the building. But, the statement differs from the account laid out by the sheriff’s office statement. Thompson’s statement says the protesters did not enter the building until after the Storytime program ended.

“The library staff worked collaboratively with the Sheriff’s deputies throughout the event, and had coordinated safety protocols ahead of time as well to help ensure the safety of patrons and their ability to participate in activities without disruption, while also respecting the public’s right to protest outside. Prior to the Storytime event and during it, deputies and library staff worked to ensure the protesters were not blocking the entrance to the library so patrons could enter. And after the Storytime program had ended, several members of the protesting group wanted to come inside. Anyone from the public is permitted inside the building as long as they are not actively protesting or disturbing other patrons, based on the library’s code of conduct. The library director came inside with them and deputies quickly made their way to the door of Storytime, to ensure safety for library patrons and staff who were still in the room. The members of the protesting group were not allowed in the closed room where the event had been held and families were still in, and there was no disturbance inside the building. Sheriff’s deputies and library staff also provided help to parents and kids who were still in attendance (some had left already) on where to exit the library following the event. Parents and children were not in danger at any time. The county celebrates all people, cultures, genders and gender identities and will continue to do that through our events, programs, and actions,” said the statement from Thompson.

Pictures sent to WECT from parents and witnesses inside the library show demonstrators inside the library and standing outside the room. WECT has received multiple messages stating that an altercation took place. Witnesses have also said that some of the protestors appeared to be part of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group.

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