An unwelcome assignment: Protecting the KKK during an Ann Arbor rally
photo by Mark William Brunner
I was chuckling in my mind about how we must look like a couple of six-foot tall ants out for a drive. Then I remembered our trembling cargo had their heads between their knees trying to get lower than the windows on the van. They were not enjoying the comical appearance of their security detail after their fun Saturday outing turned ugly.
Our actions in those minutes would earn us a letters of thanks, praise and commendation from their group. That letter would later save the city from a lawsuit. My letter was hung prominently for several years with a thumbtack in the outhouse of my family's cabin, should the occasion arise and extra toilet paper ever be need.
We were not pleased with the assignment the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) drew that year for the Ku Klux Klan rally. We would be the Klan's security detail for the event. It was our job to get them in and out of town safely. We were professionals and knew we did not have to like the assignment; we just had to do it.
Mark William Brunner photograph
He was well dressed in a powder blue, buttoned-down collared shirt; he was soft spoken and appeared friendly. Looks can be deceiving, and the Kahuna and I were not buying his outward demeanor. This guy was trouble and was going to cost the city a lot of grief upholding his right to free speech.
He smugly asserted that one way or the other his group would have its rally in Ann Arbor. He explained how other communities had tried to block their appearance and were later court-ordered to allow the KKK to rally. He bragged that his (anti-Semitic term here) lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, would sue if Ann Arbor tried to block their appearance. He further informed us that it was our duty to protect him and his followers.
At the time, the mid-1990s, it was the common belief that what the Wiz said was correct. After consulting with the Michigan State Police, the Ann Arbor Police Department adapted the plans used for an earlier rally held in Lansing at the Capitol.
(In later years, a city boasting "Da Bears and Da Bulls" told the Klan they could have their rally and good luck — they would get the same police protection everyone else got. The Klan never made it far from their cars in the Windy City. That is why there are fewer rallies —at least that was the story I heard.)
We outlined our rules of their conduct while under our security. If they broke any of the rules while being escorted by officers the rally was over — period.
City Hall had yards of chain link fence installed as a buffer between the speakers and those protesting their appearance. Inside that perimeter fence were police officers dressed in "hats n' bats" or riot gear (helmet with faceshield, batons, and gas masks) for the officers' protection.
Being on the ground between two rival groups, I can tell you it is never fun but part of the job. Even though an officer may wish to be on one side or the other — when you are in uniform with a badge, you can have no opinion. Police officers must be disinterested third parties and prevent both sides from doing any harm to the other.
Having stood on those lines and dodged all sorts of projectiles thrown, I can tell you political opinions and beliefs matter not. The only thing that matters is keeping your brothers and sisters next to you safe, completing the job and neutralizing whatever threat you are confronted with.
Behind the faceshield, what bugged me was when the crowd chanted, "The cops and the Klan go hand in hand!" Inside you want to scream, "No! No! Don't you understand that is completely false? I'm here because it is my duty to protect all of you." Outwardly you stand, you say nothing and get ready to duck if necessary.
This year we were in plainclothes on the security detail. It was a warm spring day, and when we met the Klan at the Baker Road rest area, they were all dressed in sloppy T-shirts and jeans or cutoffs. It looked like they were going on a picnic as they joked, laughed and loaded into the vans rented by the city.
They talked among themselves and did not engage us in conversation. Except for the Wizard and his designee in the other van, none were to say a word to the officers on the detail. They would take their directions from officers, and any questions should be addressed though the Wiz to me.
They carried their robes and hoods on hangers in dry cleaner bags. They put them on when they got to City Hall. The youngest members — who were scared, acne afflicted teenagers — were in the front with shields. The Wiz spouted his words of hatred and was mostly drowned out by the crowd protesting. Then it happened!
A rock hurled from the corner of Fifth and Huron, "a one in a million shot," a lawyer later argued, hit the Wiz's wife on the noggin. There was blood everywhere.
The wild-eyed, terror-stricken rest of the Klan was evacuated to the vans, waiting in the police garage by their security detail. Smoke and teargas were deployed to cover the van's escape from City Hall. We got everyone out safely, and the Wiz and missus went to the hospital, sans bloody robes, via ambulance. The chunk of concrete never hit the van's windshield, but it was an interesting ride for a few blocks.
When the Klan picked up their heads inside the van, they clapped and thanked their saviors. Two of their four police saviors were African American.
Lock it up, don't leave it unattended, be aware and watch for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com. He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.