The announcement by a controversial Kansas church that they plan to picket outside a Yucaipa soldier’s funeral this week has the local community riled up—and taking action.
that they’ll be outside the memorial service for Army Pfc. Nathan Tyler Davis on Friday. Davis, 20, was killed in Afghanistan on June 9, when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
As news of the protest began to spread and Patch articles went viral on Facebook, several community members announced that they’d like to organize a counter-protest to block out Westboro’s message.
And whether the church known for its extremist stance against homosexuality and practice of protesting military funerals actually shows up or not, the mere announcement of their intent has led to a wave of support for the Davis family.
Approximately three dozen people, primarily from the Yucaipa and Beaumont areas, met up at Yucaipa’s I Street Park on Thursday—less than a day after news of this protest really caught on. Those in attendance discussed the best way to peacefully oppose the church group.
“This is going to be a day in Yucaipa when you’re going to see everybody together, and it’s just really amazing,” said community activist Amy Andrews of Yucaipa, who organized the gathering. “And I think even with us just showing up on the sidelines, and the family seeing that, they’re going to know that it’s because of [Davis].”
Rather than wearing black to this event in mourning, Andrews encouraged people to dress in red, white or blue because that was Davis’ wish. She’s hoping that hundreds of community members will show up.
As part of their plans, the group asked that as many people as possible prepare sheet-like shielding materials to hold up. They also asked that if anyone plans on bringing signs to the event—they refrain from political messages. Rather, they encouraged people to carry positive messages of love and support directed specifically towards Davis and his family.
“I think that the biggest thing that we can communicate as a community—whether [Westboro Baptist Church] shows up or not—is ‘today is about Tyler and his family, period,’” said Yucaipa army wife Debra McMurtrey.
According to the church’s website and press release, the Westboro Baptist Church plans to organize at 10:15 a.m., in front of Yucaipa Christian Church, 12954 Bryant St. The group of counter-protestors tells Banning-Beaumont Patch they’ll be there at 9:30 a.m. The funeral itself begins at 1 p.m.
The Westboro group has been involved in anti-gay protests since the early 1990s, and by 2006 the group was spending an estimated $250,000 annually on protests, according to a report by The Guardian of England.
Their controversial stands have been met over the years by frequent counter-protests. The website BuzzFeed has a page devoted to "The 30 Best Anti-Westboro Baptist Church Protest Signs."
“It angers us to know that this man gave his life, and these people are going to use this opportunity to come and exploit the situation,” Andrews told Patch. “We don’t want to hear what they have to say. We want Tyler’s family to be able to lay him to rest in peace.”
Increased Police Presence
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which is contracted to provide police services in Yucaipa, will have extra personnel on duty Friday in response to the protest announcement, Cindy Bachman of the sheriff's Public Affairs Division said.
"Captain Lee Hamblin says he and other personnel are aware of the possibility for a protest, and there will be extra people assigned to address any issues that may occur," Bachman said Thursday in a phone interview.
Since Davis will be buried in Beaumont following the church service, the procession will also require the cooperation of the California Highway Patrol and Beaumont Police Department, according to Beaumont Spokeswoman Darci Mulvihill.
Mulvihill says Beaumont police will take over as the procession exits Interstate 10 at 6th Street. The processional route will head east on 6th Street, and south onto Pennsylvania. Davis’ final resting place will be at Sunnyslope Cemetery, 40 South Pennsylvania.
"[Davis] will be laid to rest next to his grandfather at Sunnyslope Cemetary," said Beaumont City Councilman David Castaldo on Facebook. "Please show your support for our local hero and wave a flag in his honor along the route to his final resting place. Please pass or share this message on to everyone you know in the Pass."
More Community Support
In addition to the groups of volunteers gathering Friday, organizations like the VFW and the Patriot Guard are planning on helping out.
"I joined the Patriot Guard today and they are going to escort the family the entire way," Cherry Valley resident and Vietnam War veteran Steven Hallbert told Patch on Wednesday.
The Patriot Guard is a national motorcycle club whose members attend military funeral services and "shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors." They adhere to strictly legal and non-violent means, according to the Patriot Guard website .
Councilman Castaldo also said he'll be there to voice his opposition.
"Ain't no degenerate butthole illegimate SOB gonna be louder than me," he said on Banning-Beaumont Patch's Facebook Page. "God Bless America and the men and women that fight and die for our country."
The Yucaipa Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter said they, too, will be out at the funeral, as they helped organize services for the Davis family.