Thursday, October 27, 2005

Something’s Happenin’ Here: An On-The-Ground Analysis of the North Toledo Riots

The following was written by Michael Brooks for the October 2005 issue of Clamor Magazine – you can check out Clamor online at
This article is available online at

The images on FOX News were harrowing: rioting blacks kicking in the door of a Toledo bar owned by an 86-year old man, looters throwing furniture out a window, and a building in flames. The mainstream media, dominated by the early FOX coverage, reinforced the notion that urban America is a wild, dangerous place where chaos is only a moment away. This is just the sort of simple message that appeals to law-and-order types, or, for that matter, to hate groups like the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and its colorful spokesman, Bill White. Unfortunately, the reasons for the North Toledo riot last week defy such undemanding analysis.

Timeline of the Riot

The arrival of NSM in Toledo is directly traced to a series of incidents between a white North Toledo man and his neighbors. Thomas Szych was videotaping teenagers spray painting gang graffiti in an alley when, according to police reports, he pulled a loaded pistol in front of a pair of boys, aged 11 and 14.

Szych’s weapon was seized by Toledo Police in the August 3 incident, but charges have yet to be filed in the case. A member of Szych’s family allegedly contacted NSM about the gang activity in North Toledo, and the white supremacist group announced on October 6 that it was going to march in Toledo in support of the “beleaguered” white populace. An organizational meeting was held at a west side coffee shop on October 9 with about 15 local anarchist and socialist activists, including local members of the ISO (International Socialist Organization), ARA (Anti-Racist Acttion), and several trade unions. I was invited as a media observer with the agreement that I would only write in general terms about what I heard and saw. None of the people in attendance were willing to go on record at that early juncture for fear of providing information to their adversaries. Lacking much personal experience in the planning of protests (those I have participated in have been someone else's design), I nonetheless walked away convinced that there would be a serious confrontation on Saturday October 15. The assembled activists spent their time focused on logistical matters, and reached accord on the manner in which the Nazi rally would be approached.

These groups were instrumental in developing an organized counterprotest, as well as in publicizing the event. George Windau, a local labor activist, said the combined efforts of the aligned groups produced a groundswell of public support.

“These various groups were able to put aside their ideological differences and focus on a mutual threat: Nazis spreading hate in Toledo,” he said. “We delivered thousands of flyers to residents in the area publicizing the counterprotest.”

The coalition’s efforts are even more impressive considering the fact that the city of Toledo and numerous community groups had organized an alternative rally called “Erase the Hate,” which took place at a community center more than a mile from the Nazi rally.

Windau said that many people in the community were desirous of directly engaging the Nazis. “The efforts of the people behind the ‘Erase the Hate’ gathering were well-intentioned, but there was a tremendous amount of support for showing the Nazis that they were not wanted,” he said. “Our coalition just tapped into the collective anger in the neighborhood.” On the morning of the rally several dozen protesters had gathered at a local shopping plaza. Toledo Police chief Mike Navarre stopped and talked with every member of the assembled groups who gathered to oppose the arrival of NSM.

Speaking with an anti-racist skinhead, Navarre issued a friendly warning.

“It’s a beautiful day out today, isn’t it?” he asked. “It is way too nice of a day to be sitting in a jail cell, so let’s keep things legal.” He warned the protesters that police would immediately meet any deviation from the agreed boundaries of behavior with swift action. Marchers were to stay on the sidewalks, not physically confront the Nazis, and were not to engage in inflammatory rhetoric.

“We will have no tolerance for criminal activity,” he said.

The organized protesters, however, would turn out to be the least of Chief Navarre’s worries on this sunny Saturday. As the marchers met the first neo-Nazi arrivals, police found themselves sandwiched between an increasingly hostile crowd and a small group of white supremacists. The organized protesters almost immediately began to be joined by residents from the neighborhood, some of whom were dressed in gang colors. By 10:30 AM the combined protesters numbered about 100 people. The attention of the crowd began to focus on the unexpected presence of a half-dozen neo-Nazis near Stickney and Woodward. This did not seem to fit the original plan, in which the Nazis were to stage a short rally within Wilson Park before beginning their march on East Streicher Street.

The first wave of NSM eight members merely stood at attention approximately 50 yards from the crowd. NSM leader Bill White was dressed in civilian clothes at this time, chatting into a cell phone. Soon, however, three carloads of neo-Nazis pulled into Wilson Park in full uniform. The crowd, which by now had grown to an estimated 250, became more vocal in its opposition to the group. Bill White reappeared in full Nazi regalia, and he was joined by Ohio NSM operative Mark Martin. Both began to address the crowd, taunting them with racial epithets.

“Hey! The Toledo Zoo called, and they want their monkeys back,” shouted Martin, as the NSM members began making chimpanzee sounds. “Why don’t you go cry to your daddy? Oh wait, you’re a nigger; you don’t know who your daddy is!”

White suggested that the protesters “ought to go back to cooking French fries at McDonalds, since that’s all you can do,” and led his followers in a series of white supremacist chants. By 11:20, the situation on Mulberry began to deteriorate, as soda bottles and rocks were launched from the back of the crowd. Mounted police and police in riot gear made a few arrests, and many in the crowd saw these arrests as evidence that the police were more interested in the protecting the Nazis.

“Why did you take that young man?” demanded an older protester. “He didn’t do anything!” Bill White and his supporters moved back about 20 yards, and attempted to continue their taunting. Many in the crowd were aghast at the sheer baseness of the race-baiting. “Come out from behind the police, motherfucker,” said a twenty-something man in gang colors. “You wouldn’t be talking that shit if you were out here.”

“Hey Shaniqua, how many ‘baby’s daddies’ you got?” shouted Martin, creating an African-sounding name for effect. “How many welfare checks do you get every month?”

At approximately 11:40, the police began to move the Nazis to a planned press conference in a secure area in a nearby park. The crowd, which was prevented from entering the park, ran down Central Avenue, where they hoped to confront the Nazis on their planned march through North Toledo. They met, instead, the Toledo Police riot and SWAT teams. A tense four-hour standoff began that would see repeated charges up and down Mulberry Street by both sides, and that culminated with the burning of a local tavern and some isolated looting of nearby businesses. 114 protesters were arrested for their activities, and over two dozen police and rioters were treated for injuries at local hospitals.

The Curious Mr. White

William A. White was born in 1977 and grew up in Rockville, MA. In a 1999 interview with the W, he embraced anarchism after reading Marx and Engel's Cas a teenager. For a period of time he was a writer for Pravda. From the Overthrow website, here is an excerpt of White's resignation letter: Effective immediately please recognize my resignation as corporate officer for Pravda in the USA. I expect my name to be struck from all relevant material. As is clear from the letter I've just sent you . I am discontinuing my column with Pravda. White has alternately described himself a "national socialist," "radical traditionalist," "libertarian socialist," and as a "third-positionist agitator;" he has also been a spokesperson for the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party. There is everything in that last group name but the word Reform, although White has worked on the campaigns of Reform Party candidates in the past, too. In a 2004 interview with the Roanoke News, White claimed he does not hate blacks: "I wouldn't be out here buying and fixing up houses if I had some agenda against the black community," he said. "I don't have anything against black people. The Jews, I despise. They hate me. I hate them. They can

kiss my ass." “Chameleon” might be a better word to describe White, who has morphed from anarchism to communism to national socialism. One researcher, who declined to be identified for this article for safety reasons, said that she believes White is about to assume another political identity. “I am not sure what form this will take, but Bill White seems to last only a few years in a given movement before he is tossed out,” she said. “The man is a sociopath, a patholological liar, and a narcissist.” Indeed, many in the white supremacist movement disavow White and NSM, who are often derisively referred to as the “Hollywood Nazis” for their fascination with brown shirts and shiny boots. Most of the Midwest white supremacist groups declined to participate in the Toledo rally, and even NSM Commander Jeff Schoep stayed away from Toledo.

LaGrinka: A Changing Neighborhood in Troubled Times

Polish immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries settled in several distinctive neighborhoods. "Lagrinka" is the section of North Toledo that once housed one of the nation’s strongest Polish communities. For decades many of Toledo’s industrial workers lived in the neighborhood, and many residents worked in Toledo’s famous Jeep

plant. The exodus of manufacturing jobs that escalated in the 1970s saw the fortunes of LaGrinka decline. Families moved to the suburbs and to other states, and the neighborhood’s tradition of home ownership began to suffer. Today there are many more renters in the area, who ostensibly have less of a sense of permanence and belonging.

Unemployment in the Rust Belt city of Toledo is currently running about 7.2%, but in neighborhoods like LaGrinka the number of unemployed persons is much higher. While the US Department of Labor does not provide data for neighborhoods, a state unemployment spokesperson said that she believes that the unemployment rate in North Toledo “is more like 15%.”

Antoine Jones, a resident who says his current means of income takes such forms as “odd jobs and hustling,” said that employment prospects are particularly bleak for young men in the neighborhood. “The only jobs that are out there right now are part-time and minimum wage,” he said. “How is someone supposed to feed their family on that?

Prentiss Bishop, another resident of North Toledo, described a recent experience he had.

“I managed to get a part-time job with UPS as a loader,” he said. “Then last January they said: ‘OK, everyone’s laid off now because you were all seasonal.’ How can you wait around for a job when you are only going to work less than half the year?”

The automobile industry in Toledo, once the backbone of a thriving manufacturing economy, continues to lose jobs through outsourcing and streamlining. The new Toledo North Jeep plant, which opened in 2001 with the help of nearly $400 million in local, state, and federal assistance, employs less than 60% of the workforce that worked as recently as 1998 in the old plant. Many employees expect that number to continue to fall.

Residents like Bishop are not hopeful for neighborhood prospects to improve any time soon. “Things have always seemed to get worse around here, not better,” he said. “Politicians come in and tell us they are going to bring jobs, but where are they? I’ve never seen any.” Poverty figures from the US Census Bureau show Toledo as the 40th poorest city in the US last year. A total of 16.5 percent of Toledoans were classified as living in poverty, and that number is likely much higher in North Toledo.

The problem of poverty in Toledo is compounded by a near-continuous drain of affluent citizens to the suburbs and other regions of the country. Toledo lost 5.8% of its residents from 1990-2000, and this trend has not reversed in the new millennium. As a result, Toledo’s median family income has steadily fallen, and is only 79.4% of the Ohio average. Poor economic conditions and bleak prospects only tell part of the picture.

Strained Relations with Toledo Police

I spoke with a number of residents and police officers who indicated that there is room for improvement in relations between residents and police, although it would be an overstatement to compare North Toledo with a city that has a more notorious reputation, such as Los Angeles. Jones said that problems with Toledo’s officers are more subtle.

“You can’t even have three people on your front lawn without the police coming up and hassling you,” he said. “They think every person in the neighborhood is a drug dealer.”

Bishop said that the phenomenon of being stopped for “driving while black” is normal procedure in the racially-mixed neighborhood. “Everybody knows it happens, but the police would never admit the truth,” he said. “You just learn to deal with it, but some people carry an attitude about it.”

A TPD command officer, who declined to be named, said that some units have a reputation for being particularly tough. “The bike patrol is used in this neighborhood a lot because they can sneak up on people, especially people they suspect of being drug dealers,” this source said. “They also tend to be the officers who want to bust people for every little thing, instead of using common sense and choosing their battles wisely.”

One of the triggers in the October 15 riot seems to have been the early arrests of protesters by Toledo bike cops. The original crowd of 150 people on Stickney Avenue was angered by the arrest of a black man suspected of rock-throwing. The violence that sparked the police to fire teargas, wooden “knee-knocker” pellet guns, and percussion grenades into the crowd was also preceded by the arrest of another African American

man. Another area of concern for some Toledoans is the case of Michael Franklin Green, an activist who was arrested in May for gun possession. Green, who is African American, was initially charged with two felonies, while similar gun cases involving white defendants saw only misdemeanor charges. Amid negative publicity, Green’s cases were later reduced to misdemeanors, but many in the African American community saw the case as evidence that there are double standards in Toledo for blacks and

whites. In Szych’s case, however, no such charges have ever been filed. This has angered many people in the community. “That man can pull a gun and threaten two kids in the alley, but nothing happens to him,” said a black neighbor who declined to be named. “And you wonder why people are angry?”

Activist George Windau said that he has been under surveillance ever since the riot.

“I have had both marked and unmarked cars outside my house every day,” he said. “They follow me to work, and they are there when I get off work. I don’t know if they are just lousy at surveillance, or if they are trying to intimidate me.”

Understanding the North Toledo Riot

The violence on Mulberry can be written off to the confluence of many factors, and quite a few leaders view the riot as an aberration. Many community leaders also seem willing to go along the editors of the Toledo Journal, a black-owned local newspaper:

But the white professional counter-protesters on their own side of Stickney Avenue may have done more to stir the passions of the mostly African American crowd last Saturday, resulting in the small-scale riot that gained the attention of national media and some international news outlets.

An interesting contrast can be found between this view and that of Bill White, the Roanoke, VA spokesperson for the neo-Nazi group that attempted to stage the Toledo rally. The NSM’s White argued that “the Jewish communists started passing out eggs and rocks to the black juveniles. The black kids started throwing them at the police.”

This patronizing attitude among both the neo-Nazis and the local elites seems to be in agreement: black protesters needed white agitators to guide them and provide them with a political voice. What I observed and the protesters I interviewed are in stark contrast with these condescending views. Participants in the protest and the violence were fully cognizant of their reasons for being at the event. Many expressed anger that the city of Toledo would allow the Nazis to stage a rally in a racially-mixed neighborhood in the first place, and people were outraged that the police would allow the members of NSM to spew forth racial epithets at the crowd. The single most important factor in the escalation of neighborhood awareness of the rally, in my opinion, was the ubiquitous cell phone. The growth of the crowd is directly proportional to the number of phone calls that were made by the initial neighborhood protesters. As I looked back on the photographs, I began to see that the earliest residents on the scene were making a lot of text messages and phone calls to alert their friends about the location of the rally.

Furthermore, it is absurd to characterize this as a “racial” riot; participants were black, white, and Latino. Most seemed to believe that they were either “defending” or “taking back” their neighborhood, and were angry that outsiders could come in and try to take over the area in which they live. I, as a white member of the media, would have been an early target if this disturbance was racial in nature, but I experienced no animosity in the crowd that day, and people were actually courteous. At one point I was standing next to a teenager who hurled a chunk of concrete toward the police. As he went into his best Pedro Martinez impersonation, his throwing arm bumped into me.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said. “You all right?”

For a rowdy mob that was, in the coverage of FOX, supposedly out of control, there was an element of decorum and normalcy that seemed strangely out of place.

Even the looting and burning of a local bar has a context that cannot be understood from the images beamed from a circling helicopter. Residents and police officials agree that the business was long known as a hangout of the white politicians and policeman, and was viewed by some in the black community as a beacon of exclusivity.

“That bar was always a white cop bar,” said one Toledo officer. “Everyone knows it, but no one wants to talk about it because the owner is an 86-year old man, and people feel sorry for what happened to him.” My suspicion is that the violent members of the mob, while engaging in activity that went into the realm of the illegal, knew exactly what they were doing. To deny that rioters possessed a political consciousness is not only shortsighted, but is also an activity that is itself a form of subtle racism.

It is convenient to assign blame for the protest and the ensuing violence on outside, largely white “agitators,” for then we can ignore the underlying social problems that create feelings of hopelessness and despair in communities. By making groups like ARA and ISO the scapegoats for the riot, community leaders in Toledo – and every other American urban setting - can continue to ignore festering problems.

This mentalité also helps elites avoid asking the tough questions about a system of socioeconomic organization in millions are denied access to the critical tools – money, education, and health care – necessary for success in this era of hyper-capitalism.

The arrival of the neo-Nazi group NSM to Toledo on October 15 brought to the surface a host of underlying problems that Toledo shares with countless other American cities. Unfortunately, it appears that many people would rather continue to wear blinders than to confront the harsh realities of modern American capitalism.

About the Author

A newly-inducted member of the Jewish/communist/liberal media conspiracy, Michael Brooks’s blog has become a sort of de facto clearinghouse for information about the North Toledo riot. He will continue to provide analysis and information related to the riot as long as it is needed. View his blog at

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