Where are the safety threats? Board members want answers on Civil War Days cancellation

  • Civil War re-enactors ride into position while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda.

      Civil War re-enactors ride into position while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 

Several Lake County Forest Preserve District board members on Tuesday said they have yet to see examples of the safety threats district leaders cited as reasons for canceling next month's Civil War Days re-enactment.

Waukegan Democrat Diane Hewitt called the alleged threats "a convenient excuse" that officials used Monday to scrub the event.

"I don't have any proof of anything else," Hewitt said.

In response, board President Angelo Kyle -- whose initial temporary cancellation of the event about two weeks ago kicked off the controversy -- said no board members have asked to see the emails he's received on the issue. Some emails included profanity and were "racially motivated," said Kyle, who is black.

The forest district posted a statement Tuesday on Facebook, saying the safety concerns included inflammatory remarks made during phone conversations with staff members, on social media platforms, and in articles and posts related to the event. It cited organized groups that expressed plans to use the event as a platform that the district said could cause a tense situation that could become uncontrollable.

"Our staff discussed these concerns in relation to logistics of this complex event, which includes large crowds, live animals, and Civil War-era weaponry all spread across many acres," it said. "Considering the totality of circumstances, we felt this year's event posed a potential public safety risk."

The Lake County sheriff's office announced it has requested all documentation and information concerning any threats made regarding Civil War Days from the forest district. Sheriff's police also said they're seeking a meeting with representatives of the district administration and public safety department about the matter.

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Civil War Days had been scheduled for July 13-14 in Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda. Monday's cancellation came after Kyle announced he called off the event on his own because of racial concerns, but he later backtracked and let the event briefly stay on the schedule.

Forest district leaders have not publicly detailed the concerns that led to Monday's cancellation. They said their worries were prompted by comments made in response to Kyle's cancellation of the 27-year-old event and the temporary reinstatement of it.

John Tannahill, the district's director of public safety, said officials consulted with local and state law enforcement agencies about the comments. The event was canceled based on their advice "and in an effort to keep everyone safe," he said Monday in a news release.

But that's not good enough for Hewitt and other board members.

If threats of violence were made against the district or the event, Hewitt insisted she and her peers are owed details.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I want to know -- did somebody threaten to bomb us? Did someone threaten to show up with guns? Or did someone threaten to protest?" Hewitt said. "I have a right to know."

Forest board member Dick Barr said he's only seen threats to protest the event, not threats of violence. Canceling the event because of potential protests didn't sit well with him.

"I'm very concerned we are setting a bad precedent with the decision to cancel based on fear of protests, the first and most sacred protection guaranteed in the Constitution's Bill of Rights," said Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican.

However, Lincolnshire Republican Ann Maine defended the decision to cancel the event. Maine said people could feel uncomfortable or unsafe if they encounter protesters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She also said she's read emails and social media posts from "very angry people" about the controversy, and she expressed concern protests could lead to violence.

"We live in a volatile society," Maine said. "In this day and age, we've got to err on the side of caution."

Maine also noted the 2,835-acre preserve -- the county's largest -- would need a round-the-clock police presence because re-enactors spend the night on the property for the event, and they could be targeted.

"It's a logistical nightmare," Maine said.

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