It started with neo-Nazis, mushroomed into a riot, and left behind a community shaken and wounded.
With violence not seen in Toledo since the race riots of the 1960s, crowds sometimes numbering more than 500 yesterday threw rocks, bottles, and bricks at law enforcement officials. Police responded with clouds of tear gas and wooden “knee-knocker” pellets.
At its ugliest, looters struck at least four businesses, including Jim and Lou’s bar at 3032 Mulberry St., which they set on fire. There were assaults on bystanders and vandalism with damages in the tens of thousands of dollars, including attacks on emergency and media vehicles. Police said overtime costs could easily exceed $100,000.
Police arrested at least 60 people – 43 adults and 17 juveniles – primarily for aggravated rioting, assault, and vandalism. Some were gang members, police and Mayor Jack Ford said.
One police officer was treated for a head injury after she was hit in the head with a stone. A firefighter paramedic was also treated. Numerous other officers sustained minor injuries when struck by objects. There were no official reports of injuries to citizens, but some people were overcome by tear gas and at least two Blade photographers were assaulted.
The city’s image also took a beating, as news helicopters circled overhead and images of looting and burning in Toledo were broadcast across the country.
Police Chief Mike Navarre didn’t mince words last night about what happened in his city.
“You have cars burning and stores being looted and disregard for law enforcement where they can’t do their job without taking rocks and bottles,” he said. “Officers are going to the hospital because they’re getting their heads hit with a rock. I’d call that a riot.”
The area around Central and Mulberry near Woodward High School erupted into violence after crowds in the predominantly black neighborhood were angry about a planned neo-Nazi march. Even though police canceled the march by the National Socialist Movement before it began, it wasn’t enough to stop the violence.
The Nazi march, scheduled to start at about noon, was canceled before it started due to the violence. By the time it was over yesterday – and authorities are still nervous about more violence – parts of North Toledo were strewn with shattered glass, broken bricks, and a city left wondering how it all happened.
“It’s a sad day for Toledo,” said Joe Walter, city safety director. Last night, police said the situation had calmed down, but the violence and its aftershocks had already rippled through the city.
Mr. Ford instituted an 8 p.m. curfew last night, and said there would also be an 8 p.m. curfew tonight.
Early Warning Signs
After a morning news conference yesterday, Chief Navarre drove around the area where the Nazis were to march. The neighborhood was quiet, and the proliferation of “Erase the Hate” signs that had bloomed on many of the small front lawns of this working-class neighborhood were noticeable.
But soon, traffic on the police radio channels picked up. Shortly after 10 a.m., when a dispatcher reported that gang members wearing colors were gathering along Stickney, Central, and Ketcham avenues, Chief Navarre began to worry.
“This is not going to be pretty,” he predicted. “I’m starting to get a pretty bad feeling.”
Residents in the neighborhood had even earlier signs of trouble.
Ramon Perez, a Lagrange Village Council member, said he was canvassing the neighborhood for days before the planned march.
“Even Friday night, at Bronson and Stickney, that’s all we were hearing: ‘We’re taking this place down.'”
Though police had feared there could be violence – they initially brought in 150 extra officers – they expected any trouble would be between the Nazi marchers and protesters. And initially, that appeared to be a possibility.
Around 11 a.m. yesterday, about 15 Nazis had gathered next to the east side of Woodward High School, holding signs and chanting things like “white pride, not hate.” They carried homemade signs, such as, “White People Unite! Fight For Your Race.
A crowd of about 300 counter-protesters across the street from them also shouted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this Nazi hate has got to go.” Their signs included, “Black and White Unite” and “No Racists in Toledo.
John Haynes, 22, a black North Toledo resident wearing a Dallas Cowboys football jersey, said the Nazis were “crazy for coming down here and starting all this.”
As he watched them from across the street, he observed that “they’re lucky there’s a lot of police around, or they’d get hurt. There ain’t no problem here” between the races.
The National Socialist Movement, who call themselves “America’s Nazi Party,” said they came to Toledo because of “black criminal behavior,” according to Bill White, a spokesman from the group who lives in Roanoke, Va.
He said the spark for their visit was a dispute between a white North Toledo man and black North Toledo woman who are neighbors.
Signs of Violence
By 11:15 a.m., police had already reported rocks flying. Along Stickney Avenue, as mounted patrol officers pushed back the crowd off the sidewalk, angry residents screamed at passing police.
“Which side are you on?” shrieked one woman. “I don’t see you pushing any Nazis back!”
“There are a lot of angry people right now, and we have to deal with that,” Chief Navarre said as he huddled with his officers trying to plan the police strategy.
Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, whose deputies assisted in security yesterday, stood near Chief Navarre listening to reports coming in of tear gas being fired and crowds throwing rocks.
Asked why police released the route of the parade to the general public yesterday morning, Chief Navarre said neighbors in the area had requested it so they would know if the march affected their streets. As it was, he added, the route was a moot point because the Nazis never marched.
By noon, the Nazis were pretty much out of the picture. Police canceled the march after reports began to trickle in of violence breaking out along the planned march route.
The chief declared: “It’s over. It’s done. Get ’em back in their cars and get them the heck outta here.”
“They accomplished what they wanted,” Sheriff Telb said of the Nazi group. “They got chaos.”
‘We Need Help’
A large group of people gathered at East Central Avenue and Mulberry Street to await marchers just before noon, but the crowd quickly grew restless and dangerous as they pelted cars with rocks and yelled at passing motorists.
Sometime around noon, a harrowing voice boomed through the police radio.
“We need help! We need help!” an officer said repeatedly. A crowd that gathered at East Central and Mulberry threw rocks, two of which shattered the windshield of the cruiser.
That intersection quickly became ground zero for the mob that took over that section of town. Numerous vehicles were showered with bricks, stones, and just about any object people could find. Some took large, broken stones and threw them against the edge of the curb to break it into more stones so others could throw them at police and others.
Police fired back with pepper spray, mace, and wooden bullets. People scattered from the intersection, only to quickly gather back. By midafternoon Chief Navarre said 60 percent of the city’s entire police force, or roughly 400 officers, were on duty in the area.
“I just came here to watch,” said Mick Juhasz, 33, who said he lives in East Toledo. “They don’t need to [shoot at us.]”
One of the police command units was pelted with rocks at the intersection, shattering the windshield and windows and officers drove away. The same thing happened to a Lucas County Life Squad that tried to make its way through East Central.
The crowd moved to the American Petroleum convenience store about 2 p.m. Store owner Sukhdue Singh Khalsa said looters broke windows and security bars, turned over the ice machine ,and started stealing items from the store. He said his vehicle was turned over and damaged.
“We were very busy and after 2 o’clock, more than 500 people came and started throwing rocks,” said Mr. Khalsa, who said he wasn’t there but had two employees working. “They took cigarettes, cash, and a lot of things.”
Mr. Khalsa later walked through his store with trash and damaged food items thrown all around. The windows were all broken out and glass littered the floor.
At around 2:30 p.m., Mayor Ford, Mr Walter, Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell, and the Rev. Mansour Bey, associate pastor of First Church of God, approached a crowd of about 600 people at the intersection of Mulberry and Central in an attempt to calm the crowd.
It didn’t work.
Using a megaphone to make themselves heard over the shouts from the crowd, Mr. Ford and Mr. Bell tried to explain that the Nazis had left hours ago.
“I’ve sat here, and for the last couple of hours, we have tore up our own neighborhood … The Nazis are gone,” Mr. Bell shouted.
“Why were they allowed to be here? That’s what I want to know,” screamed back one man.
Many members of the crowd yelled that the Nazis should never have been able to march in the first place.
Mayor Ford said he heard one person in the crowd say to him: “I ought to shoot you.”
As the officials talked with the crowd, looters just across the intersection broke into Jim and Lou’s Bar and began stealing merchandise.
At one point, Mr. Bell appeared to be successful in negotiating. He approached a crowd of police officers gathered a couple of blocks away and announced that the crowd “said they’d disperse if the police left.”
He returned to the intersection, but someone had set Jim and Lou’s bar on fire.
Walking back toward the police, Chief Bell just shook his head. “No negotiating. We’re done,” he said. “They set the building on fire.”
Unable to kick a side door of the bar open, one rioter had used a gun to shoot the lock open. The stairway inside led to the upstairs apartment. Rioters started throwing furniture and appliances and book shelves from the apartment’s windows before setting it on fire.
They chanted and waved their hands outside as the blaze roared through the upstairs apartment.
“This is stupid,” said O’Shai Crenshaw, 27, who lives on St. John Avenue. “Why burn this building? That building isn’t [owned by] the police or the Nazis. This doesn’t make any sense.”
Police began to move toward Central and Mulberry, firing tear gas, and pushing the crowd back and making arrests.
Sir Boston, 53, of Central Avenue, pleaded with police not to let firefighters down to that intersection just yet.
“Don’t let them go down there. They’ll brick em,” Mr. Boston said. He warned them that five gangs had taken control of the intersection.
“This is crazy,” he said as he saw police move in along Mulberry. Firefighters followed close behind, many in bullet-proof vests.
Mr. Boston was arrested as part of the mass sweep moments later, despite trying to provide on-street intelligence to officers. Police said they had no time to determine whether he was innocent and whether he should have been released from custody.
Steve Marshall, the nephew of Jim and Lou’s Bar owner Louis Ratajski, said he has not heard from his uncle since the fire. He said watching his uncle’s bar burn down on national television made his blood boil.
“Yeah, I’m angry,” Mr. Marshall said later. “You lost a half-century of history in that bar for some silliness. I don’t blame the administration or the police. I blame the parents. I don’t want to hear about the schools or anything. I want to know where were the fathers and where were the mothers to let their kids run amok.”
At 4 p.m., after police had broken up most of the crowds, Toledo police Lt. Frank Ramirez stood in the intersection of Central and Mulberry surrounded by shattered bricks, stones, and glass.
“It was just a mob,” he said. “Obviously the unexpected happened.” Chief Navarre echoed that.
“Hindsight’s always 20/20,” he said at a news conference later. “There are some things that we would have done different. We wouldn’t have allowed that group to go into a neighborhood … The march in that neighborhood was a bad idea. I mean, the march never took place. We couldn’t have let it take place. These people would have been eaten alive.”
Mr. Navarre added a thought that many throughout the city will no doubt be thinking today:
“We’ve got community relations we’re going to have to mend,” he said.
David Lewis, 35, a Wal-Mart employee who has been living on Bronson since 1979, said frustrations have been mounting for years because of a lack of city services in North Toledo.
“My question is: What do we do tomorrow?” he asked. “The source of the problem is you have not put something in the neighborhood to help kids. Nobody’s addressing the real situation.”
“The community’s got to heal,” Chief Navarre said. “There’s a lot of unrest, there’s a lot of anger among young people living in that neighborhood,” he said. “… The community leaders have to step-up, the ministers, the people who live in the neighborhood. They have to meet with these young people, the ones who were out there voicing all this rage and anger and find out what this is all about. It’s got to be more than just a rally.”
Mayor Ford took a little different perspective.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a lasting impact,” he said of the day’s events. “No one was killed. I don’t believe anyone was seriously injured. There was a crowd-control issue. There was milling around. After talking with them, and them deciding to desist, we had the place cleared. It was done. There were some arrests made. And that’s the way it should have been handled.”
This story was written and reported by Blade Staff Writer Luke Shockman with reporting by Kim Bates, Joshua Boak, Erica Blake, Roberta de Boer, Dale Emch, Tom Henry, Clyde Hughes, Andre Monroe, Mike Sigov, Tom Troy, and Mark Zaborney.