ANN ARBOR, MI- The Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated charges last week against six antifascists accused of inciting a riot at a May 1998 Ku Klux Klan/neo-Nazi rally held in front of Ann Arbor City Hall. The charges had been dismissed in 1999, but were overturned on appeal from Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie.
According to Michigan state law, only those whose “violent conduct caused, or created serious risk of causing public terror and alarm” can be convicted of felony incitement to riot. In 1999, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Donald Shelton dropped the felony charges on the basis that the city prosecutor Mackie had failed to provide evidence that antifascist activists had created public alarm. Mackie had argued that police officers were part of the “public,” and if they felt frightened, then the defendants should be convicted. But Shelton concluded that there is a difference between the police and the public: “the contention that the on-duty police were the ‘public’ within the meaning of the statute is without merit,” he wrote in his opinion. “Such a construction would convert every violent act committed by five or more people against a police officer into the crime of riot.”
Last week, however, Court of Appeals Judges Donald E. Holbrook, Jr., Gary R. McDonald and Henry W. Saad overturned Shelton’s ruling and reinstated charges against the demonstrators. It makes no difference “whether police officers are members of the public,” the judges wrote, since the rioting statute “applies to violent conduct that creates a serious risk of causing public alarm.” This ruling came in spite of rally onlookers who testified at the 1999 trial said that they had feared the actions of police more than those of the demonstrators.
The attorney for the six defendants, Miranda Massie, promised to appeal the court’s decision. “There was no riot on May 9, 1998,” Massie told _The Michigan Daily_. “The community members in two separate juries have already spoken and said there was no riot”If you are going to call a handful of broken windows a riot, then there are quite a few riots taking place,” she said.
The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office was unavailable for comment.
On 9 May 1998, the Ann Arbor municipal government spent $137,000 of public money to help the Ku Klux Klan stage a “recruitment” rally on the steps of Ann Arbor City Hall. The city provided the Klan with a police-chauffeured shuttle service to and from the rally, a municipal sound amplification system, and elaborate protection measures, including an eight-foot temporary chain-link fence ringed by police in riot gear. During the rally, individuals from the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary, the National Women’s Rights Organizing Coalition, Anti-Racist Action, Groupe Vladimir Maïakovski, and other antifascists attempted to breach the fence despite the best effort of a nonvio-ent liberal “Peace Team” who protected the fence in the name of “free speech.” The Klan was finally shut down halfway through the scheduled rally when protesters broke through an unmanned area of the fence behind city hall threw bottles and rocks through ten windows and vandalized exterior lighting fixtures. Police responded with batons and teargas. Only minor injuries were reported.
Police arrested a handful of demonstrators on site, and later arrested more with the help of informers (many from the “Peace Team”) who made identifications from photographs and videotape made at the rally and later broadcasted on the local municipal cable television station. In all, twenty-one people had been arrested (including a fifteen year-old who was charged with felony riot when he refused to identify other youth involved to the police; a seventeen year-old foreign-born student was threatened with deportation) and police listed seventeen more unnamed “suspects.” Nine of the defendants had faced the possibility of ten years in prison. One defendant was charged with “inciting to riot” (also a ten-year sentence) for speaking out against racists who were urging the mass murder of minorities sixty feet away and under the protection of the police. Ten of the twelve misdemeanor charges were leveled against those who had been pulling on the temporary fencing. The bulk of the charges center on allegations of damage to city property-police themselves have valued the damaged property at less than 1/27th of the tax money shelled out to stage the racists’ rally in the first place.