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Cops Coddle Klan

Cops Coddle Klan image Cops Coddle Klan image Cops Coddle Klan image
Parent Issue
Month
July
Year
1996
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
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AGENDA Editor ANN ARBOR - No one knows for sure who actually started the violence. AntiKlan demonstrators say thc pólice overreacted to their presence, that many of them were unfairly tear-gassed, Maced, pepper-sprayed and clubbed. Pólice say they were "baited," that many of the counter-demonstrators carne to the Klan rally at City Hall looking for a fight. No matter who actually started the violence, the almost hour-and-a-half Saturday afternoon ugliness billed as a Klan recruiting rally and counter-demonstration could have ended sooner, with less violence, with less tear gas, and with less injury and property damage, if the pólice had retreated back to City Hall once the Klan had left the premises. Instead, shortly after three vans led by two pólice squad cars exited City Hall carrying Klan members to safety - with the crowd more than 150 feet away and posi ng no threat to the motorcade - pólice fired and lobbed volley after volley of tear gas canisters at hundreds of remaining protesters, and then chased them three blocks from the rally site through downtown streets. What appears to be a lack of pólice restraint at this critical juncture in a nearriot situation, as well as an overly-generous use of the taxpayers' resources to provide the Klan with their fortified City Hall balcony pulpit, leads us at AGENDA to join others in the community, including council members Tobi Hanna-Davies and Pat Vereen-Dixon, in calling for an independent investigation into the strategy and behavior of law enforcement officials at the rally. We are particularly interestedin why, at a point when the Klan had vacated the premises and the most violent clashes between the pólice and the crowd were over, the pólice did not retreat. Their job - to protect the Klan from harm while they exercised their right to free speech and assembly - appeared to be over. Instead, according to Ann Arbor Deputy Pólice Chief Craig Roderick in an interview with AGENDA, pólice used tear gas at this point because they were being attacked by the crowd and the officers were acting to disperse them. Several eyewitness accounts, however, say the pólice and protesters were at a standoff and although there were a few isolated individuals in the crowd who were acting provocatively, the vast majority of people were milling about and catching their breath from having already been tear-gassed. Klan opponents are already being subjected to systematic scrutiny by the pólice and courts. Eight arrests have been made and more may be forthcoming as videotapes of the rally are reviewed by the authorities. The Klan has already announced their intention to return to Ann Arbor for future "'rallies." We feel that the best way to prevent more violence will be to look at someofthe mistakesthat weremade at this rally. Only a public hearing in vvhich all sides of the story are presented will ad-' equately accomplish this goal. Pre-Rally: Organized Responses Many repons in the mainstxeam media say that "violence erupted" at the rally - as if without cause, suggesting an almost spontaneous combustión by the crowd or the pólice. However, the tensión actually started building weeks before the June 22 fiasco, when the public learned that a group of Ku Klux Klan members from Butler, Indiana would hold a recruiting rally in Ann Arbor. Since the plan called for fewer than 50 Klan members to be at the rally ( 1 5 actually showed up), they didn't even need a permit from the city. Nonetheless the city began preparing in various ways for their arrival. The Fair Housing Center of Waslitenaw County turned the anticipated event into a fundraiser, taking pledges of money for every minute the Klan rally lasted (they raised about $4,000). Letters were sent by the pólice to residents on Ann St. across the street from City Hall advising them to be away from their homes because of the potential for violence and the expected use of tear gas. Some local clergy, in an Ann Arbor News story published the morning of the rally, urged people to stay away, citing the potential for violence. The pólice also warned the general public to stay away from the rally. Deputy Pólice Chief Walter Lunsford toldThe News: "'There is a substanti al risk to anyone who does show up, and should an incident happen, there is not a lot the pólice will be able to do to protect them from being hurt." Others in the community feit that ignoring the Klan, given their history of violence, bigotry, hatred, and calis for statesponsored genocide, was not a morally or politically acceptable option. Two marches and counter-demonstrations were organized by different groups of activists, students, and union members. One coalition of groups, Ann Arbor Organizing Against the Klan (AAOAK), called for an 1 1 am rally on the U-M Diag followed by a march to City Hall and a counter-demonstration. AAOAK' s fliers and press conference statements stressed opposition and resistance to the Klan but did not cali for violence. Some of the groups listed as endorsers on a flier included Coalition for Community Unity, Detroit Anti-Racist Action, Free Mumia Coalition, Industrial Workers of the World, Jobs With Justice Washtenaw County, A2 Ypsilanti Chapter of the Labor Party, TrotskyistLeague, and the Workers World Party. A second and separate anti-Klan rally, march, and protest was organized by the National Women's Rights Organizing Committee (NWROC), a wing of the Revolutionary Workers League. The NWROC rally was to take place at 10 am at the Michigan Union, followed by a march to City Hall. One of NWROC's Uiers called for "smashing the hated racist scum of the KKK . . . by any mcans necessary." The pólice say that NWROC's past history of violence at Klan rallies, and their inflamniatoryliteraturepostedabouttown. was responsible for extreme measures to insure the Klan's safety. Deputy Pólice Chief Roderick told AGENDA that pólice planned their strategy alter seeing videotapes of four Klan rallies where NWROC showed up, two in Lansing in 1994, one in Howell in 1994, and one in Denver, Colo. in 1992. Most of those rallies ended with the pólice firing tear gas at counter-demonstrators. The pólice, in short, prepared for violence from the crowd. Fortress City Hall However it was hard to imagine the lengths to which the pólice would go to protect. To say they rolled out the carpet for the Klan is one way of putting it. From fortifying City Hall for the Klan's protection, to chauffeuring them to and from their commanding second floor City Hall soap box, little seemed to be spared to accommodate the Klan. Prelimi nary repons on costs for city and county services for the afternoon set the figure around $75,000. With more bilis still being calculated, the potential total costs could reach close to $100,000. Some 277 law enforcement officials were involved in the extraordinary show of force (the Ann Arbor pólice estimated the crowd size at 350, other estimates are as high as 1 ,000). A total of 160 Ann Arbor officers, 54 Michigan State troopers, 40 Washtenaw County sheriff s deputies, 19 U-M Public Safety officers, and four sheriff s deputies from Livingston County made up the force. Pólice personnel costs for the city amounted to $37,240. The eight-foot chain link perimeter fence cost $10,000; equipment, food and water totaled $4,748; and liability insurance cost $3,8(X). Overtime for sheriff s deputies from Washtenaw County totaled $15,000$20,000. The News quoted Deputy Pólice Chief Roderick as saying the incident was "the physically most security-intensive operation" he's seen in 24 years on the job. A Recipe for Disaster What these numbers don't reflect is what it acfually feit like to stand there and look at what City Hall had been turned into. To see the bricks and mortar of the city's most important civic structure used as a fortified bunker and pulpit for this particular group at this particular time when racial tensions are so high in Ann Arbor and around the country, was an assault onone' s sensibility. To see the sheer numbers of pólice in riot gear with shields and gas masks (in pouches) standing behind eightfoot fences with signs on them that said "DO NOT TOUCH THE FENCE OR YOUWILLBEMACED"feltlikeapunch in the stomach. Even without the Klan and without the protesters on the scène, this was an ugly and disturbing sight. It was this war-zone setting that greeted about 3(X) marchers as they arrived at City Hall at about 1 1 : 30 ani and congregatcd at the comer of Huron St. and Fifth Ave. (the two different marches merged downtown en route). They joined about 150 people who were passing by, milling about, observing,orwaiting tbr the Klantoshowup. In that half-hour wait, some of the crowd . were content to chant slogans and listen to speeches froni people with bullhoms about how they should deal with the Klan, anybody who looked like they were Klan supporters, and the pólice. One organi.cr suggested: "Look lor people that may be identifying themselves with the other side and deal with them appropriately." Unfortunately, at some point bcfore the Klan took the stage at noon, some of the crowd did just that. In an incident that has made international news, a group of demonstrators ran down Fifth Ave. chasing an alleged Klan supporter wearing a confederate-flag adorned vest. When they caught him they pushed him to the ground and punched, kicked and beat him with sticks until 18-year old Kcisha Thomas of Pittsfield Twp., an African-American woman, intervened by throwing her body over the man to protect him. Hven though Thomas acted with admirable courage by saving the man from an even more brutal beating than he got, it was the fïrst truly repulsive incident of the afternoon Tensions escalated another notch when 15 members of the Klan, dressed in white and black robes and carrying shields with swastikas and insignias, took their perch on City Hall's second-floor balcony at noon. It was just a few minutes into the rally when a Klanswoman on the podium was hit in the side of the head by a rock from the crowd. This caused the Klan to move back into City Hall and re-emerge a few minutes later. (The woman was taken to U-M Hospital where she recei ved stitches and was released.) The alleged rock thrower was arrested by the pólice. For the next half-hóur or so part of the crowd were content to shout things at the Klan, and sometimes at the pólice. Some people chanted slogans like: "Hey hey. ho, ho, the KKK has got to go." Another slogan was: "The pólice and Klan go hand in hand." Most people congregated or milled about in an unorganized fashion trying to get a good look at the Klan or just hung out and talked with each other. The vantage point from the comer of Fifth Ave. and Huron St. disappointed most gawkers, as the Klan appeared to be little clowns or puppets withcolorful costumes upon a faraway stage. Also, whatever the Klan was saying at this point in the rally didn' t seem to bother the crowd much because they simply couldn't hear them. At some point, near 1 pm, most of the crowd moved to the other side of City H al 1 . They marched in an orderly way to the Ann St. side where barricades and a slew of pólice protected the only open spot in the perimeter fence, a dri veway i nto City Hall ' s parking lot. It was this entryway through which the Klan was driven into the City Hall complex earlier in the day. It was also the egress through which the Klan would be transponed. During normal City Hall operations, the dri veway serves as the eastern-most entrance to City Hall's parking lot and the most direct path to the ground (SEE NEXT PAGE) floor pólice garage and station. Eventually the crowd gravitated toward the western end of the perimeter fence along Ann St., closer to the corner of Fifth Ave. From this vantage point demonstrators were close enough to see the Klan's white-power salutes and hear an occasional racial epithet coming from their podium. A small group of domonstrators then began surging toward the fence. occasionally touching it. Kach time they neared it or rattled it, the pólice shot thin lines of Mace in their direction. A small part of the crowd in no time responded with a barrage of bottles. rocks, and sticks from their protest signs. The Violence Escalates Alter this first violent aitercation the police waded into the crowd on Ann St . to arrest people identified by their rooftop spotters and personnel on the ground as the crowd' s mainoffenders. Moving in squads the pólice singled out, chased, and apprehended a number of individuals in the front and back yards of houses across the street from City Hall. These forays provoked tremendous resistance from onlookers and friends of the targeted suspects. They at times almost surrounded the pólice and screamed at pólice to let their friends go, and at times threw things and surged toward the arresting officers. In the course of bringing suspects through the entryway and into the City Hall compound, in one case about a 100-foot journey, the officers Maced anyone who carne within range. With the arrested in custody behind poIlice lines and the Klan out of sight - having Ibeen ordered into City Hall at 1 pm, a halfIhour before their rally was scheduled to end - the pólice needed to clear the driveway iexit for the Klan's departure. Many demonstrators were now congregating around that i entryway, having been drawn to it by the ;arrests. At this point, oneofficerletflyagiant stream of pepper spray from a hose connected to a canister to drive people back. While he continued to spray the crowd and drive them west on Ann St. another officer stepped forward and sprayed to the cast, a spot occupied mainly by photographers and onlookers. Then without warning, pólice put on their gas masks and from the entryway lobbed and fired their first volley of tear gas canisters at the crowd. AccordingtoDeputyPoliceChief Roderick the order to dispense gas and disperse the crowd was given at 1 :03 pm. The gas was first dispensed at 1 :04 pm. The clouds of gas drove the crowd west down Ann St. As they retreated, some demonstrators threw rocks and sticks, and the tear gas canisters still spewing their noxious fumes, back at the pólice. The pólice fired even more gas and within minutes the crowd moved back to the corner of Fifth Ave. Many in the crowd spent the next five to ten minutes recovering from the effects of the pepper spray and tear gas, seeking water from back yard spigots to wash their faces and rinse their eyes. They congregated for the most part in the 200 block of Ann St. right next to the fire station, no closer than 1 50 feet from the Klan's exit point. A Turning Point At this time, pólice squads dressed in camouflage and in all-blackuniforms slowly formed a line across Fifth Ave. at the corner of Ann St. Some of the officers wore special gloves and carried tear gas canisters. One officer carried a short snot-gun looking vice which was used to launch gas canisters at a distance. Then at 1:14 pm, according to Deputy Pólice Chief Roderick, the Klan caravan exited the City Hall complex. Aneyewitness account described their pace as leisurely. When asked whether the Klan faced any danger during their exit, Roderick would only say that the only instance of the crowd harming the Klan canie when they were on the podium and the woman was hit by a rock. What happened next appearsto beunwarranted and unrestrained action by the pólice. With the Klan already gone, many now wonder: Why did the pólice not retreat into City Hall? If the crowd pursued them or started to act violently again, orders could have been given to disperse and measures then taken. Without giving any wamings to the demonstrators to disperse, and with little apparent provocation, the pólice dispensed canistcr alter canister of tear gas into the crowd. A few demonstrators retaliated with a barrage of projectiles, including gascanisters, as they moved away. This final phase of tear gas started between 1:15-1:20 pm, according to Deputy Pólice Chief Roderick. "If the crowd had kept moving there would have been no need to dispense gas further," Roderick said. "One officer was pelted with a brick, and anothcr subject came out of the alleyway and attacked officers from behind," Roderick explained. As far as giving the crowd a verbal warning or an order to disperse, Roderick said that "in confrontations, when under attack, the necessity [for pólice] for verbal commands goes out the window." The crowd feil back on Ann St. and turned south at Fourth Ave. Pólice lines advanced toward therri pushing and clearing the area of anyone not motivated to move by the tear gas. The pólice pursued the remaining crowd, chasing some down alleys, all the way to the L00 block of E. Huron St. On their retreat down Fourth Ave. protesters broke several windows at the Washtenaw County Court House before they turned west on Huron St. and eventually straggled south up Main St. where they regrouped and then made their way back to campus. It's important to note that if the demonstrators had turned north on Fourth Ave., where many shoppers and cafe customers were going about their business, their might have been many more innocent bystanders affected by the last and unnecessary gassing and pólice pursuit. The Aftermath A press release issued by AAOAK and NWROC on June 27 calis for an independent investigaron ofpolicemisconduct," as well as the dropping of charges against the antiKlan demonstrators, the suspension without pay of policemen involved, and a promise from the city that the pólice will not escort or protect the Klan or the Nazis in the future. The groups plan a picket at the preliminary hearings for the protesters at 9 am on July 3 at the District Court House in downtown Ann Arbor. Keisha Thomas, the woman who garnered national media attention for protecting an alleged Klan supporter, may now face charges herself. In a separate incident during the rally, Thomas says she tried to protect a protester from the pólice as he was being Maced and arrested. Pólice say that Thomas rushed an officer during the arrest and may face charges of interfering with pólice.

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