The show must go on--despite June 17 Street Fair fracas
On Thursday, July 1, the Coventry Village Summer Music & Movies Series continued with clear, cool weather, several hundred participants and no disruption like the kind that occurred just two weeks before at the end of the June 17 Coventry Street Fair.
The free entertainment series, hosted by the Coventry Village Special Improvement District and Coventry P.E.A.C.E. (which built and maintains the unique playground at the former Coventry Elementary School) features music and an outdoor movie every Thursday throughout the summer. On July 1, music was provided by the band Blue Lunch and the featured movie was "Best in Show." The series schedule is available online at www.coventryvillage.org.
Several hundred people—many of them families—attended the event. The hill above the field where the movie is shown was crowded. While Cleveland Heights Police quietly patrolled the area, there were no incidents of any kind and the event proceeded quietly as scheduled. Moments before the movie began, the band led a parade of children and adults in a ragged conga line around the open field, while many in the audience ate picnic dinners—some brought from home and others purchased from Coventry Village restaurants.
The ordinariness of the evening came as a relief—but not necessarily as a surprise—to event organizers, who viewed the disruption at the Street Fair as an isolated incident.
The June 17 Coventry Street Fair had been one the best yet, according to Steve Presser, owner of Big Fun on Coventry and one of the fair’s organizers. "It had the highest attendance and best variety of vendors and entertainment," he said. It was the only Coventry Street Fair scheduled this year—an economy-related break from previous years, when two or three such events have been held.
But some attendees at this year’s fair noticed an unusually large number of unsupervised youth over the course of the evening. "You expect to see families and adults; I’d never seen so many kids at one of these," said a 17-year-old attendee who left as the disturbance began. "It was definitely not the usual Cleveland Heights crowd. You could just tell that somehow they were there to ruin it for everyone else."
Eighteen minutes before the scheduled closing of the fair, at 8:42 p.m., a fight broke out at one end of the street fair; the last such disturbance was handled by police at 10:08 p.m.
By the time it was over, nine people had been arrested: four from Cleveland Heights, two from Cleveland, two from East Cleveland and one from Shaker Heights, according to Cleveland Heights Police.
Fights were reported to have occurred at Coventry and Mayfield roads, in front of Tommy’s restaurant, at Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park, at Edgehill Road and Washington Boulevard, Edgehill and Coventry roads, Hillcrest and Mayfield roads and the Mayfield Road Marathon gas station.
Megan Rochford attended the fair with family and friends. She witnessed two of the fights. Moments before one of them, Rochford said she was standing at Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park and overheard a group of young men standing next to her repeating remarks they heard about people getting guns and shooting. Rochford described the fighters as "savagely" beating each other and throwing each other on top of cars in the parking lot.
According to the City of Cleveland Heights, no weapons were used in any of the fights. Tom Fello, owner of Tommy’s restaurant, was beginning to break down his stand when a group of teenagers ran past, chasing two other teenagers and trying to grab their shirts. He saw the young men knock over a street vendor and her stand.
A large rush of other kids toward each fight was noted by at least a few observers as the worst aspect the disturbance.
In a statement read at the June 21 Cleveland Heights City Council meeting, Mayor Ed Kelley called the incidents "unfortunate" and praised the work of the Cleveland Heights police. "Thanks to the excellent work of our Cleveland Heights Police there were no injuries and the situation was quickly brought under control," he said.
Kelley said the kind of behavior that occurred at Coventry "will not be tolerated on Coventry or anywhere in our community. If disruptive behavior, unlawful behavior or anything that disturbs the peace occurs we will arrest and prosecute."
"The Coventry area . . . is safe, it is fun and we are very proud of its history and its current vitality. This one incident should in no way change the way that Coventry is thought of as a 'go-to destination' for out-of-towners and Greater Cleveland residents," Kelley said.
"What happened was disruptive and made people feel uncomfortable and unsafe," said Presser. "These youth didn’t come to listen to music, buy art, or see a movie," he said. "They came to cause trouble. But it could have happened anywhere. The Cleveland Heights police handled it well."
Fair organizers canceled the first movie in the summer series, which was supposed to follow the street fair at 9 p.m. While there were early rumors that the entire movie series would be canceled, Eric Kaufmann, president of Coventry P.E.A.C.E., assured residents that the program would continue. Fello agreed. "I think they should continue to go on," he said. "You can’t spoil it for the thousands of people at the fair and, hopefully, the hundreds who come to the movies [just] because a handful of people don’t know how to behave themselves."
"If we give up the movie series it sends the wrong message," said Presser. "We should come out in numbers. This is our neighborhood and we will not be run out of our own backyard."
Attendance at the July 1 showing was described as an average size crowd for such events held in the past.
Anna Schade is a senior at John Carroll University and is a summer intern for the Heights Observer.