A loud and enthusiastic crowd of 500 to 600 people had little trouble drowning out the message of nine members of a hate group Saturday on Courthouse Square.
The Indiana KKK group’s rally and counter-protest events resulted in no arrests, no uses of force by police, and no injuries.
But the abundance of preparation and a safety plan including 720 officers and blocks of barricades proved costly, and community conversations exposed anew the inequities felt by black Daytonians.
“Dayton is still too segregated and still too unequal,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. “This is unacceptable and something we must keep focused on to change every single day.”
Shanta Parham, 39, of Dayton, came downtown. She said she felt it was important to show pride and solidarity and to not respond with violence, hate or stupidity.
“This is my city, and I am going to stand up for it,” she said.
The early cost of protecting the Klan and counter-protesters during the rally and the alternate events Saturday is roughly $650,000, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein. Personnel costs are estimated at $250,000 and $400,000 for materials, she said.
Dickstein cited what she called the leniency of Ohio’s gun laws and the deadly outcome of a 2017 white supremacy rally in Charlottesville for pushing security costs higher.
“Some may be critical of this investment,” she said. “Unfortunately in today’s world where individuals are free to open carry unlimited numbers of guns and where we have seen vehicles driven into crowds of peaceful protesters, we feel this investment was necessary.”
After the Honorable Sacred Knights group left town, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl praised the professionalism and discipline of law enforcement at all the sites and city staff who worked on the security plan.
“It was a very safe day in Dayton at all events and the entire city … I think we did a superb job,” he said. “I’m going to sleep tonight.”
Whaley was relieved, but reiterated her frustration that a small number from out of town having such a large impact on city operations for months. She also said the planning helped shine a light on issues that continue to divide the community.
“This ugly chapter is over, but it means we have to get back to the real work: making sure that no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, you can have a great life here in Dayton.”
Many voices, but one message
Despite using a bullhorn, the KKK-affiliated group’s white power chants were inaudible from hundreds of feet away and through the din of the hundreds of counter-protesters’ chants, songs, music and shouts of opposition.
There were many voices , but one main message: The KKK and hate is not welcome here.
Some people carried rainbow flags. Some people carried signs with expletives denouncing the KKK. Many people carried signs calling for unity, peace, love and diversity.
The counter protest remained peaceful even though some people were masked and came heavily armed, including with assault-style rifles, or carried items that could be used as weapons, including chains, baseball bats, flashlights, poles and sticks.
The diverse group of counter-protesters included members of religious and faith organizations, community activists, non-violence advocacy groups, the anti-fascist movement, Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Socialists of America.
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A Church of God group from Greenville sang Amazing Grace and other songs over loudspeakers. At times, people pounded on drums, buckets and pots. Some people blew whistles and party horns and banged on cowbells.
Sousaphones Against Hate, a two-man group from Chicago, brought two sousaphones and a trumpet to “musically troll” the KKK. They played the “Ghostbusters” theme song, the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars, “If Only I Had a Brain” and other selections.
“We drove all the way to give these clowns a taste of our musical minds,” Ryan Miller, 52, of Chicago, said. “Maybe these clowns won’t be able to hear themselves think.”
Miller, however, said it was somewhat unnerving to have people walking around carrying assault rifles because he’s not used to that sight. Chicago does not have open carry.
Members of the Cincinnati chapter of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club attended the counter-protest, among dozens of people who carried long rifles and assault weapons.
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Gun club chairman Jordan Telting said he wished the crowd could have been closer to the KKK so he could look them in the eyes and show them that no one in the region is scared of the Klan.
“We are here to protect the community,” he said.
‘An Afternoon of Love’
During the rally and about a mile away to the west of Courthouse Square, more than 200 people attended “An Afternoon of Love, Unity, Peace and Inclusion” Saturday at McIntosh Park.
The Dayton Unit of the NAACP worked with nearly 40 local groups to create a community event that showcased Dayton’s diversity and its opposition to the KKK event at Courthouse Square.
Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton NAACP, said the event showed how people can peacefully assemble to counter hate.
It showed “that we are united against hate and that we are a community that, no matter who you love, where you come from, or what you believe, you are welcome in Dayton,” Foward said.
YWCA Grants and Advocacy Manager Sarah Wolf-Knight said the organization wanted to have a strong presence on Saturday to showcase its mission to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
“We are so excited to be at this event today to really represent something that we do 365 days of the year,” she said. “While we are really here today standing up against this big red flag of white supremacy in our community, we want to encourage people to get involved with us, the NAACP and other organizations who do this work year around.”
Tanya McDougle, from the Point Church in Trotwood, said it was important to attend the counter-event to show support for diversity.
“We are a mosaic of God’s creation, and we are better together,” she said.
‘Such a big police force’
Some rally chants disparaged the police, but counter-protesters and police never clashed. Shortly before the end of the rally, some members of antifa marched from the counter-protesters area to the area that was supposed to be for Klan supporters.
They shook the metal fence and yelled at Klan members and police, but the Klan left shortly shortly before their rally permit expired at 3 p.m.
Police watched through binoculars from rooftops. A drone hovered over Courthouse Square and helicopter at a higher altitude over downtown. A plane circled with a banner: Equality forever, bigotry never.
Some officers were on bicycles, and others were on horseback, wearing riot helmets and gear. Some horses had plastic safety visors.
Ashia Ideis, 30, of the Middletown area, came downtown because she wanted to send the message to the Klan that hate is not welcome here.
Ideis, who was accompanied by her 13-year-old son Nathan Young, carried a cardboard sign reading “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
She said she was concerned about safety but felt mostly at ease.
“Dayton’s done a very good job,” she said. “We’ve been thanking officers. Who knew we had such a big police force?”
Dayton City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild said the key was to keep people safe.
“There is a great crowd of people down here on Main Street,” Fairchild said. “This is probably Dayton at its best.”
All spring the Dayton Daily News has covered the community response to a rally Saturday in downtown Dayton by a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. It is our responsibility as journalists to report on how this event impacts our community, and how our community responds to it. Our staff spent days carefully considering how we’d cover this to ensure we don’t amplify hate speech, we don’t silence free speech, and we accurately inform you of the diverse views in our community.
Love Overcomes Hate Cleansing of the Square
Community will gather at Courthouse Square to “wash away the hate.”