Sunday, July 22, 2007

Weston urges light response to rally

Friday, July 20, 2007 388-8557

Public Safety Chief Dan Weston is asking members of the community to scrap plans for an event to counter a white-supremacist rally planned for Kalamazoo in August.

``It's my suggestion that you don't have counter rallies,'' said Weston, who spoke Thursday night to about 40 members of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP.

The rally is being organized by Hal Turner, of North Bergen, N.J., who has called an Aug. 4 protest in Kalamazoo in response to reports of alleged assaults by black teenagers against whites.

Turner has called for white-supremacist organizations to send members to Kalamazoo for the rally, according to a press release issued by Turner. It is unclear how many people will actually respond to the call.

Weston spoke to the local NAACP to assure members that the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety has been researching rallies organized by Turner in other areas and will be ready with a plan to protect protesters and the community from violence.

``I do want you to know we are not asleep at the switch,'' Weston said.

But the chief wouldn't offer many details for what he called strategic reasons.

Nevertheless, some at Thursday night's meeting pointed out that Turner on his Web site has posted information about security arrangements planned for the rally in Kalamazoo.

It calls for the main parking lot of the KDPS headquarters on Crosstown Parkway to have an area fenced in to secure it from anyone opposed to the rally. The parking lot will be a security zone and everyone entering the area will be subject to magnetic wanding for weapons and a pat-down search for projectiles, according to Turner's site.

Weston said this morning that the details posted on Turner's website are steps his department is considering. He said what Turner's website discussed relates to steps KDPS took when the Klu Klux Klan held a rally in Kalamazoo in 1998.

The public safety chief also urged people not to attend Turner's planned rally.

``Don't give this guy or this group an audience,'' Weston said. ``If you want to undermine his activities and show you don't support him the best way to do that is to stay away.''

Weston said that in a supremacist rally in Lansing last year, organizers learned what police were planning to do and went to court two days before the event to get a court order to prevent some police activities.

``They will be able to guess what we are going to do because it's what police do in just about everything,'' he said. ``But we are not going to help them and publicize our main plan.''

Weston said Turner has spoken at past hate-group rallies in Toledo in 2005 and Lansing in 2006. He warned that a counter-rally that emphasizes peace could become a target. That happened in Lansing last year, the chief said.

``They came out there and they ran to the other rally and quite frankly the cops were not expecting that,'' Weston said. ``They almost didn't get them cut off before they got to the other rally.''

Weston said white-supremacist groups use the Internet extensively now to know what's going on in a community and to target counter-rallies to their events in order to create confrontations.

He told attendees at Thursday's NAACP meeting to not label events they may hold during the Turner rally a ``peace event.''

``Don't make it sound or look like you are doing it because this guy is pushing our buttons. That's what they are looking for, and that's what they want.''

Counter-rallies also mean KDPS will be stretched thin in providing protection. The date of Turner's rally is the same day as Ribfest, one of the largest festivals in downtown Kalamazoo.

``We have to defend not only the community and the residents but we got to defend Ribfest,'' Weston said.

Yolanda Neals, a local activist who attended Thursday's meeting, said she was working with a group called Mothers of Hope to organize an Ultimate Family Reunion to keep area youths away from Turner's rally.

Others said talking to teenagers about the rally was important.

``We really want our teenagers to know about this because they have nerves of steel and they will want to go and counteract,'' said Bertha Barbee-McNeal.

``I think all of us really need to calm them down,'' Barbee-McNeal said, who added that families need to spend quality time with youths as a counter to Turner's rally.


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