25 arrested amid protests in York over racist stands

Counter-demonstrators take to streets to oppose Ill.-based supremacist

January 13, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

YORK, Pa. - Lured by the lingering pain of deadly race riots in this blue-collar town 32 years ago, about 350 demonstrators gathered yesterday to support or protest the noon visit by white supremacist leader Matt Hale of the World Church of the Creator.

Hundreds of federal, state and local police in riot gear, rooftop snipers and a hovering police helicopter kept confrontations to a minimum; witnesses reported only minor skirmishes and few instances of property damage.

By 5 p.m., police had made 25 arrests and confiscated two guns. One man who was struck by a truck was taken to a hospital.

"The amount of fallout and injuries here were down, given the potential for this event with the number of counter-protest groups," Vermont McKinney, with the U.S. Department of Justice's community relations service, said at an evening news conference. "This was mild by comparison."

Hale spoke to about 60 people inside a downtown library while police, including some on horseback, scrambled to separate shouting groups of Hale supporters and protesters.

"We seek the advancement of white people, our people, without any apologies, any compromise, any groveling before anybody," Hale told supporters and spectators inside the library.

Marion Kinard, 31, of York, brought his two sons, 4 and 6, to the speech. "I want my children to know that they're teaching it to their children," said Kinard, who is black.

Hale's group has been accused of helping hone the racist beliefs of a man who went on a shooting rampage in 1999. The gunman, Benjamin Smith, killed two people and wounded nine in Illinois and Indiana before killing himself. The victims were Jewish, black or Asian.

In an interview last week, Hale, 30, said he was drawn to York, a racially mixed city of 41,000, because of the continuing prosecution of nine white men, including the former mayor, in the 1969 race-riot killing of a black preacher's daughter.

"One of our motivating factors is that, yes, this is controversial and, yes, York has been the center of attention for a lot of people in Pennsylvania and, yes, we want to get attention for our cause," Hale said in a phone interview from his home in East Peoria, Ill. "But we believe that if people listen to what we have to say with an open mind, they will believe in our cause."

Two Hale appearances in Illinois in 2000 ended in violence, with people arrested after each melee.

The standoff among protesters in York began even before Hale arrived in a police van shortly before noon at the red-brick library at East Market and South Queen streets with two of his associates and two members of his security force.

After marching along the perimeter of the police-barricaded downtown area, a crowd of skinheads, Nazis and other white supremacists surged down South Queen Street toward the library waving swastika flags and shouting racial slurs.

As they moved toward the police barricade, additional riot police trotted out of the basement of the nearby First Presbyterian Church of York to join dozens of police reinforcing the barricade.

A throng of anti-racism and anarchist protesters moved in, and the mounted police and foot-patrol officers in riot helmets with face shields quickly formed a human barrier between the two groups.

There, both sides remained for about two hours, taunting each other and trading insults, waving signs and daring each other to cross the police line to fight.

On the anti-racist side, demonstrators gathered alongside black, Hispanic, Asian and white York residents curious to see what the commotion was about. Protesters - including masked members of the Anti-Racist Action group and representatives of the Jewish Defense League - railed against racial intolerance and shouted curse words across the street.

Others held signs promoting peace and harmony and challenged their opponents to love others as well as their own kind.

From time to time, a protester on the anti-racism side upped the ante, launching a snowball, chunk of ice or other projectile across the street, propelling the police into the crowd to make arrests.

Across the street, black-clad and tattooed Hale supporters, including members of the National Alliance, the Hammerskinheads and the Aryan Nation, yelled back, raised their right arms in the Nazi salute and chanted, "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!"

In one of the more violent clashes, several blocks from the library, several anti-racist protesters attacked the pickup of a white supremacist as he drove down a narrow alley, witnesses said. The driver, whose truck hit a protester when he accelerated to escape, was arrested and his vehicle was impounded.

Angered by the extremists' presence in their town, community activists organized a full schedule of activities, including prayer services and a youth basketball tournament, to allow residents to support diversity without having to be anywhere near the possibly dangerous clash downtown.

On Friday night, 70 people marched from the courthouse to the library, where Christians, Jews and Muslims prayed in a room where Hale spoke yesterday.

While demonstrators clashed at various points around the city yesterday, more than 300 people gathered at a community center named for Crispus Attucks, a former slave who was the first man killed by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre in 1770.

"It's important to remember that the groups coming to the library and the groups coming to confront them are all non-Yorkers," said Cathy Ash, director of the York City Human Relations Commission, which planned the unity rally at the center.

"There are a lot of us who are more than just a little resentful that these outside groups want to come in and use us," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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