Arrested Protesters Speak Out About Toledo Police
by Michael Brooks
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 at 5:49 PM
Activists arrested on December 10 in Toledo speak out against repression of free speech.
(Toledo, OH) The December 10 neo-Nazi rally at One Government Center was not accompanied by a repeat of the violence and rioting associated with the October 15 rally.
Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre estimated that 700 officers from a wide variety of local, county, and state jurisdictions participated in maintaining order at the second rally at a cost of an estimated $300,000.
Questions have been raised, though, about possible infringements upon civil liberties. Nearly three dozen anti-Nazi protesters were arrested on an assortment of charges.
One of the arrested was Scott Rogers, who traveled with three friends from Illinois to take part in the protest.
“We saw some notices on the Internet that people were meeting at local libraries and then heading downtown,” he said. “We showed up at the West Toledo branch on Sylvania and a police officer told us to leave, and that he could have a paddy wagon there in two minutes.”
Rogers said that several local residents asked them for a ride downtown and climbed in the station wagon the protesters drove in.
“As soon as we pulled out onto Sylvania, a police car pulled us over. He said we had too many people in the car,” he said. “Within five minutes there were over 20 officers on the scene.”
Officers made the group get out of the car and walk into a nearby parking lot.
“We were forced to kneel on the parking lot for an hour with our legs crossed behind our backs,” said Alex Maromyguin, also an Illinois resident. “They tied our hands with plastic restraints that cut off the circulation of my fingers. Between the cold and the plastic ties, it got to the point where I couldn’t even move my fingers. It reminded me of a photo from Abu Ghraib.”
Another member of the group, Rehana Khan, said that the police refused to tell the protesters why they were being detained.
“When we would ask them, they would tell us to shut up,” she said. “A girl from Toledo started talking about her civil rights, and a cop knocked her over and smashed her face in the snow.”
Khan objected to the lack of notice about the temporary restraining order banning protests away from the official rally site.
“We were en route from Chicago when the court decision came down, and never heard anything about this ridiculous order,” she said. “Besides, we weren’t even protesting outside the zone. We left the library as soon as the officer told us to leave.”
Jeremy Hammond, among the seven protesters arrested on Sylvania, said that there are many misconceptions about the protesters.
“There were outrageous media reports – planted by Bill White of the NSM - that we were planning to ‘attack’ the Nazis, and that we were transporting weapons,” he said. “The police seized a can of black spray paint we used for protest signs and a $5 slingshot I bought at Meijer’s many months ago. The idea that we were here for violence is preposterous.”
Rogers noted that the Illinois protesters have been blamed for all sorts of problems.
"Bill White claims on his website that we called him and threatened him, and that we were outside his motel," he said. "The problem is we were too busy being arrested 15 miles from his motel to have bothered him when he claims, and we don't even know his phone number. Some of the Nazi websites also claim we were the ones who bricked the tattoo parlor, which of course we would have had to accomplish while we were in jail."
Another misconception about the group is that they are part of some secret conspiracy, said Rogers.
“We are friends who happen to share a belief that neo-Nazi philosophies of genocide and racism are dangerous and should be opposed,” he said. “We drove here not as members of some organized group but as concerned citizens.”
A local protester, who declined to give her name on record, said that her experience mirrored those of the Illinois protesters.
“I showed up at a local library branch to protest, but people said the police were not allowing any protest there,” she said. “I chose instead to go to the downtown rally.”
When she returned to her car after the rally, police surrounded her vehicle.
“All of a sudden there were eight cruisers surrounding my car,” she said, adding that she believes her car must have been followed from the local library. “They arrested me for disorderly conduct, took me to jail, and impounded my car.”
In the holding cell, inmates were not provided with food, she said.
“Many people had not eaten since breakfast, and the guards said that they do not normally provide meals,” she said, noting that she was not released until 10 PM. “In the meantime, the break room for the officers was right in front of us, and some of the guards made a point of walking past us and showing off their food.”
George Windau, a local labor activist, said he witnessed three protesters get arrested for sitting in a car on Michigan.
"We were turned away from the rally because one of the people I was with had metal studs on his jacket. We decided that since all of us couldn't get in, we would leave," he said. "The car was parked in on Michigan by the public library. They got in their car, and while I was talking on my cell phone, a bunch of police cruisers roared up."
Windau said that he and another protester were not detained, but the three in the car were.
"It was very arbitrary," he said. "The only thing different about the people in the car is they had on anti-Nazi T-shirts, while we did not. The police arrested them for illegal demonstration."
Hammond said that the arrests will also be the subject of protest.
“We plan to hold a short rally in January when our cases come before the court,” he said. “People of conscience should be horrified that these unconstitutional and arbitrary arrests occurred.”
Police Chief Mike Navarre defended the department’s actions.
“We were very pleased with how the rally went on December 10,” he said. “We made it very clear that in the days and weeks before the rally that there would be zero tolerance for criminal behavior.”
Navarre believes that the department’s approach to the second rally was critical to avoiding a repeat of the October violence.
“The zero tolerance policy was very successful. No one was injured, no police officers were injured, and there was no property damage,” he said. “As for individuals who feel they were unlawfully arrested they are certainly entitled to due process, and that is what the court system is for.”
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