City police prepare for neo-Nazis
Large part of downtown closed to auto, foot traffic
BY LAUREN LINDSTROM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Toledo police have devised a tentative setup for the planned neo-Nazi rally in downtown Toledo next month, which calls for both police and a boulevard to be between members of the National Socialist Movement and the public.
The rally, slated for 3:30 p.m. April 18, also will close a significant portion of downtown to vehicle and pedestrian traffic and will be secured by several area law enforcement agencies. Streets, including parts of Adams, Superior, North Michigan, North Erie, and Beech, will begin to close to vehicles and pedestrians at 11 a.m. that day. Street parking will shut down the night before.
Those who come to watch the rally or to protest against it will be allowed in a designated area, just south of Jackson Boulevard between North Erie and North Huron, at 2:30 p.m. The rally is slated to begin an hour later in front of One Government Center. The National Socialist Movement has a two-hour permit, police say, though they don’t expect it to run that long.
No backpacks, purses, or signs on posts will be allowed into the area. The public will enter through metal detectors at Superior and Jackson. City Law Director Adam Loukx said the law department is still working on concealed-carry issues for that day.
Capt. Tom Wiegand, in charge of Toledo police operations for the event, said they are modeling rally plans after the way they handled response to the December, 2005 neo-Nazi rally downtown, which had a heavy police presence.
Captain Wiegand was SWAT commander in 2005 and has attended several National Socialist rallies, he said, adding that police will use best practices and lessons learned from the last two rallies.
“Unfortunately they’re coming back again, and we have to be prepared,” he said. “It’s better to air on the side of a larger police presence than a smaller one,” he said, adding that it’s important for the public to feel that the police are capable to handle whatever happens.
Captain Wiegand said some officers who are trained in crowd management will be dressed in some form of riot gear. Police will form a line separating the crowd from the neo-Nazis, who will be in front of Government Center. Police will be in the Jackson boulevard, and the public will be on the other side of Jackson.
Police said the top priority is public safety, and they said they will be prepared if the crowd becomes unruly.
Capt. Donald Atkinson, who oversees the internal affairs bureau for the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, is coordinating the sheriff’s office’s actions that day. He said 140 officers are expected from the sheriff’s offices in Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, Erie, and Sandusky counties. In addition to Toledo police, Ohio State Highway Patrol will be also present.
Drew Dennis, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said in the case of controversial speech such as this, it is important that demonstrators’ intended audience can hear and see their message.
“Everyone has the constitutional right to speech, no matter how distasteful, classless. or tacky it might be,” he said.
A strong response from neo-Nazi supporters suggests this will be one of the largest rallies in the group’s history, said Dan Donaldson, who serves as regional director. Mr. Donaldson declined to predict how many members will attend.
The tentative plan for officers securing a wide perimeter is standard procedure for these rallies. It's not surprising given the reaction 10 years ago in Toledo, said Mr. Donaldson, 36, of the Toledo area.
“They’re definitely out there to make sure criminals and gangs don't show up to break the law again,” said Mr. Donaldson.
Mr. Donaldson said his group supports the Toledo Police Department. Officers are patrolling the event not because they agree with the message, but because they protect citizens’ rights, he said.
National Socialist Movement members will follow police requirements to stay in the designated area and not engage in physical altercations, Mr. Donaldson said.
“Pretty much, we say what we got to say, and we leave,” Mr. Donaldson said.
Toledo police said plans for the rally are tentative and could change as the event nears. Many local groups are holding counteractivities that day and have asked residents to come to those or stay away from the rally.
Staff writer Ryan Dunn contributed to this report.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Police-Fire/2015/03/27/...