‘Environment of fear’: More police around Downers Grove library after threats over drag event

The Downers Grove Public Library is on course for a renovation this year. The library board selected an architect for the project Feb. 27, and the design process will kick off in April.

Downers Grove police have increased patrols around the local library after threats against the facility and staff stemming from a planned drag-themed bingo event for teens in October, officials said.

One Facebook post urged people to “bring weapons” to the library, according to police reports.

In addition to stepped-up patrols now, police will be at the library for the Oct. 11 event, village spokesman Doug Kozlowski said.

Library board members said they are “very concerned” about the threats.

“No member of our community should feel unsafe in their homes, places of work or elsewhere in the village of Downers Grove,” they said in a collective statement released Sept. 2. “Promoting civil discourse among the diverse members of our community is important, and creating an environment of fear dampens all of our ability to hear those perspectives.”

Mayor Bob Barnett on Sept. 2 issued a stern warning for program opponents.

“While we encourage citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights peacefully, criminal activities are not welcomed or tolerated,” Barnett said. “Anyone who commits a crime will be prosecuted to the extent possible within the law.”

Bingo games and a short lip-sync performance are planned as part of the event, which the library has said will be geared toward seventh through 12th graders.

As of the morning of Sept. 2, the library staff had received about 450 emails and phone calls about the program. The feedback is nearly evenly split, officials said, with supporters slightly outnumbering opponents.

Some comments have been threatening and aggressive, officials said, resulting in calls to the police.

The Facebook comment about weapons was reported to police. It had been written by an Idaho man who formerly lived in northwest Illinois, according to documents acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request.

To assist Downers Grove police, an officer in Idaho interviewed the man, who apologized and said he doesn’t intend to return to Illinois or bring weapons to the event, reports said. He wasn’t charged.

The other police report stemmed from a voicemail message left for a library employee Aug. 30. The caller, an unidentified man, expressed displeasure over the drag event in such a way that it was classified as telephone harassment, reports indicated.

Publicity for the program has grown since a group called Awake Illinois, which criticized a recent drag show at a Lake in the Hills bakery, expressed concerns about it online.

In what it called a “call of action,” the group provided contact information for library officials so people could share their concerns. It also suggested several specific questions, including, “Why is the library board OK with exploiting children in a public setting that may well encourage attendance of sex offenders/child predators?”

Republican congressional candidate and Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau repeatedly has denounced the event, too, expressing fears about sexual content in a recent WGN 720-AM interview.

Library officials have insisted the program will be appropriate for the setting and the audience.

Pekau hasn’t responded to Daily Herald interview requests. The person handling communications for Pekau’s campaign, former lieutenant governor candidate Kathleen Murphy, is Awake Illinois’ government affairs director.

Pekau is seeking the 6th District seat held by Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove. Casten has supported the event.

Barnett urged local business owners and residents “to respect and promote equal rights for all.”

“I appreciate everyone’s assistance as we work together to keep Downers Grove a safe place for ... residents and visitors alike,” he said.