At least 500 spectators and counter-protestors filled the corners at Ninth and Elm streets early Saturday afternoon for a march by about 20 members of a white supremacist group.
Law-enforcement officers enveloped the neo-Nazis in a protective cocoon of helmets, shields and batons as the marchers, chanting “white power,” paraded through the intersection shortly after 1 p.m.
As the marchers rounded Ninth Street and headed east on Elm Street, bystanders screamed for them to “get out of our town,” including some who went into the street and followed the uniformed members of the National Socialist Movement who wore red armbands with swastikas.
The marchers circled back to Ninth Street by walking near the Hitt Street parking garage. Shortly after they re-emerged on Ninth Street, several bystanders rushed into the street. At least three counter-demonstrators were handcuffed by police in riot gear.
The march ended about 1:30 p.m., and the crowd at Ninth and Elm streets began dissipating. Some gathered outside the Hitt Street parking garage, which the neo-Nazi group used as a staging area.
Before the march began, police searched bags for items such as eggs or weapons. Mounted police patrolled the streets on horseback, and a police helicopter circled overhead.
Addae Ahman, 48, of Columbia was among those in the sidewalk gathering. “As an African-American and a Muslim, I’m against people who advocate the oppression of other folks based upon superficial differences such as the color of skin,” he said.
Some counter-demonstrators scuffled with police and marchers, and officers used Mace at least twice: once in the crowd at Ninth and Elm streets and once outside the Hitt Street garage.
Columbia police Capt. Zim Schwartze said seven counter-demonstrators, six men and one woman, were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor offenses including peace disturbance by fighting, trespassing and one for assault of a law officer. Their names were not immediately available.
Several of those arrested were from out of town, Schwartze said.
“No one was seriously injured,” Schwartze said. “We only had one reported vandalism to a law enforcement vehicle, and that was just a magic marker.”
The marchers left about 1:30 p.m., and the crowd began dissipating.
On the other side of the downtown area, about 300 people had arrived at Douglass Park by early afternoon for an event designed to promote tolerance and diversity. There was free food, a hip-hop show and activities for children that included games, planting marigolds, puppet-making and other crafts.
“It’s nice to see people come out,” said Zora Serfoza. “I’d like to see stuff like this happen more often.”
“Spark in the Park” was one of several events organized in response to the march.
At 11 Saturday morning, NAACP representatives from across Missouri joined about 100 Columbia residents outside the Boone County Courthouse steps Saturday morning to rally against the supremacist group.
“We, the NAACP, did not believe that we could drink, eat and be merry while the Klan marched through our town,” said Mary Ratliff of Columbia, organizer of the event and president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP.
Ratliff added that she would have rather had a counter-demonstration on Elm Street, part of the route for the National Socialist Movement march, but did not have enough time to organize it.
The event began and ended with prayer. Speakers included Mayor Darwin Hindman, Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom and MU law student Syreeta McNeal.
At the courthouse, Hindman said gathering was part of an effective community response.
“The fact is that Columbia is a diverse place, and that’s good,” Hindman said. “But we’re not perfect. Now we have a challenge. Martin Luther King Jr. would want this crisis to be handled peacefully, but he would want us to speak up.”
The mayor went on to say, “We can turn their (neo-Nazi) parade into another step forward. This is a wonderful city. Let’s keep it that way.”
Feintuch likened the neo-Nazi parade to the Holocaust.
“Friends, the swastikas and high-hand salutes that Columbia will experience today stand for much evil,” Feintuch said. “Columbians, we hope, will turn a very cold shoulder and say no to hate in our city.”
He urged Columbia residents to say no to “would-be Hitler henchmen.”
McNeal said that Columbia’s public officials could have tried to stop the parade through the courts. “I wonder why the city officials did not even attempt a legal challenge?” she said.
At 7 a.m. this morning, members of the local clergy led a procession of peace and prayer along the same route chosen by the white supremacists.
The faith walk began at Seventh and Elm streets with a prayer by the Rev. Maureen Dickmann. The group decided to pause along the route to say prayers or blessings and sing.
The first stop was at Ninth and Elm streets, where the Rev. Carl Lewis of Second Baptist Church prayed aloud. “When they march today in anger, I pray that they meet you at the end of this route,” Lewis said.
The “they” Lewis referred to are members of the National Socialist Movement, a white supremacist group that has a parade permit to march Saturday afternoon. The march by clergy, who also had a parade permit, was part of a community response that includes an 11 a.m. rally at the Boone County Courthouse and a gathering in Douglass Park from noon to 5 p.m.
The 21 early morning marchers, mostly representatives of churches, synagogues and spiritual centers, were led by the Rev. Mary Hull of St. Paul AME Church with the help of Dickmann, of Rock Bridge Christian Church, and the Rev. Karen Walker-McClure of Russell Chapel CME Church.
“This march is necessary because we are called as leaders in the community,” Hull said, “My prayer is that the parade will pass through with no harm to the community.”
John Galliher, director of peace studies at MU, said he attended the peace walk in support of the black community. “The greatest concern for some of us is that some African-American kids will be out there and do something foolish, and that’s what I believe the Nazi’s want,” Galliher said.
During a stop at Hitt and Elm streets, Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom sang, in Hebrew, a rendition of verses 2-4 of Isaiah: “Let no nation lift a sword against a nation. Let them learn no more the ways of war.”
People in cars paused and waved in support.
The faith-bound procession also paused at Hitt Street and University Avenue, Ninth and University, and the entrance to Francis Quadrangle at Eighth and Elm streets to pray and sing.
When the marchers returned to the starting point, the group sang “we are standing on Holy ground” and “we shall overcome”.