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‘Free Ohio’ rallies shifted to sidewalk

Events set for Cortland, Niles

Two “Free Ohio Now” rallies planned for today at 290 S. High St. in Cortland and 40 N. Main St., Niles, both will be taking place on the sidewalk and are expected to go off without a hitch.

In a press release, the rallies were set to take place at the old Cortland Roller Rink and the Niles McKinley Memorial, which are both private property.

Cortland Mayor Deidre Petrosky said the city initially thought the group had permission from the property owner of the old Roller Rink to be on the property, but it was the Realtor that actually had given permission.

When the property owner did not want the group there, Cortland police chief Dave Morris got in contact with the organizer — who Petrosky said has been very respectful — and arranged for the group to stay on the sidewalk. Attendees will park at the post office.

“They’re allowed to be there,” Petrosky said Friday. “We really are not anticipating problems tomorrow. A peaceful protest we will respect, and I think there’s been a mutual respect to both sides as far as Morris and the organizer.”

Petrosky said Morris also reached out to a police chief in another area where a “Free Ohio Now” rally previously was held, and that chief said there were no problems with the group. The Cortland rally is set for 1 p.m.

In Niles, rally attendees have been told they are not allowed on the McKinley Memorial property without an approved auditorium or grounds permit, for which the “Free Ohio” group did not apply, according to museum director Amber Farris.

“Unfortunately, many in the community are unaware that our grounds and building are private property. We are not a governmental entity,” Farris said.

Farris said Niles police chief Jay Holland also has spoken with the rally organizer, and it is understood that those in attendance at the 3 p.m. rally will stay on the sidewalk.

“It is our hope that their promise of a peaceful protest that remains on the sidewalk, will in fact be just that,” Farris said.

Holland said the group has a “valid First Amendment right to rally on the sidewalk” and do not need a permit to be there. He said the department has no active plans to be present during the rally.

“Free Ohio Now” is an all-volunteer group of Ohio citizens formed in April 2020 in response to the government’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the group’s website. This specific protest is about the cancellation of Memorial Day events.

The release announcing the two Trumbull County rallies states, “Free Ohio Now strongly believes honoring the memory of those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our Constitutional rights, individual freedoms and way of life is too important to pass without tribute.”

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