Courts & Crime

Group marches for 'white civil rights' in wake of bus beating

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- A group waving flags adorned with swastikas traded insults with and challenged a crowd of about 250 onlookers from behind yellow wooden barricades manned by police including SWAT members during a midday protest Saturday.

After an hour of loud protesting by white supremacists, who were countered by a silent demonstration, police ended the two downtown rallies at 12:30 p.m.

While a police sniper watched from the roof of the police station, 22 members of white supremacist groups, shouted obscenities and made obscene hand gestures. One man, who had a crew cut and wore a black uniform, told the crowd of onlookers, "Wake up white America!"

"We were out there to denounce the violence," said Belleville resident Jason Bonn, who is a corporal with the National Socialist Movement, a group with a name similar to the Nazi Party of Germany during World War II. Bonn’s group is "fighting for white civil rights."

Around the corner from the shouting protesters on West Washington Street, several dozens participated in a silent counter-rally on South Illinois Street. The Rev. John Curry, of Conqueror’s Christian Center in Belleville organized the counter protest: "Our message is to preach love for all groups, skinheads, KKK, Nazis, all groups. Hate has got to stop. Our message is silent love."

The white supremacist rally was held in response to a Sept. 14 attack on a Belleville West High School bus, where two black students beat a white student. Members of the National Socialist Movement were joined by other pro-white groups and held signs that said, "It was a hate crime."

Several dozen police officers, SWAT members and police dogs managed the crowd and protesters.

Some of the spectators booed the white supremacist rally and shouted "Go home." From the second floor of the St. Clair County parking garage, a row of people shouted back, "Equal rights for all. Equal rights for all."

Police Chief Bill Clay said no arrests were made. "There's been no violence. It's just been hate-filled speech," Clay said.

Kimberly Schnarr, of Livingston, was one of the protesters with Bonn. "We're proud of our white heritage," she said. "We're not preaching hate."

The videotaped fight on a school bus en route to Belleville West sparked national attention. Police originally called the attack racially motivated, but recanted that statement the next day and said it was a case of bullying.

The 14- and 15-year-old suspects were charged with aggravated battery and expelled from the high school for two years.

The 17-year-old victim is healing from a cut on his upper cheek, two black eyes and an injury to his jaw. His attorney has said it’s too early to say how he is recovering from the psychological and emotional injuries.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the police did a good job keeping the downtown area safe. "Everything seemed to go smoothly. I was happy that there was no incident and hopefully it’s behind us."

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