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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

City defends riot response; police chief says violence was worse than expected

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lou Ratajski, owner of Jim and Lou's Bar, examines the damage from a fire ignited during the rioting on Saturday. Lou Ratajski, owner of Jim and Lou's Bar, examines the damage from a fire ignited during the rioting on Saturday.
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A day after a riot in North Toledo put the city into the national spotlight, city leaders are looking for answers and defending their response to a planned march by neo-Nazis that triggered the violence.

Police Chief Mike Navarre said his department had an extra 150 officers on duty and was prepared for the event.

We knew during the preparation that it was going to be a tremendous challenge, Chief Navarre said during a press conference yesterday. Anyone who would accuse us of being under-prepared, I would take exception with that.

By Saturday night, the violence that was centered on a few square blocks of North Toeldo was being broadcast around the globe and Jerry Seinfeld even wove it into his comedy routine at the Stranahan Theater in Toledo.

During the riot and into the night, 114 people were arrested, 34 of whom were juveniles. The charges included aggravated rioting, burglary, felonious assault, carrying a concealed weapon, failure to disperse, obstruction, and resisting arrest. Police had reported 60 arrests Saturday night.

More than 600 people swarmed to the north end to confront marchers from the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group.

After threats caused police to call off the march, the violence escalated: Two businesses were looted and one burned and a dozen police officers were injured, one seriously when she was struck in the head by a brick.

By yesterday, city leaders were evaluating their response.

But Lawrence Shack, who has owned a home in the 3100 block of Mulberry since 1996, said he doesn t need any answers he s moving.

Rioters picked up rocks from his front yard landscaping and tossed them at police. And they blocked his driveway when he was trying to go work at GM Powertrain in Toledo.

I m putting [my house] up for sale, Mr. Shack, 54, said. I can t take this. There were a thousand kids everywhere. I put $2,200 into my front yard and now it s destroyed.

Police began to learn last week that large numbers of gang members would attend the march to protest against and possibly clash with the neo-Nazi group members who came, they have said, to protest black criminal behavior.

In hindsight, Chief Navarre said he would have tried to persuade the group to march or protest at a neutral location or downtown, rather than a residential neighborhood.

The chief noted that the protest was more violent and lasted longer than expected.

Unfortunately, they [the marchers] have the right under the First Amendment, and as distasteful as it is, we have to protect them, he said. These groups thrive on this kind of attention and what happened yesterday was a victory for them.

More than 200 police officers patrolled the neighborhood overnight.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said he hoped today to lift the 8 p.m. curfew he instituted Saturday night.

Mayor Ford said he assumed that tensions escalated and violence erupted because Toledo residents were angry over the idea that someone from outside the community could come in and insult them.

Early yesterday morning and throughout the day, police cars continued to slowly circle streets in the area southeast of Woodward High School and Woodrow Wilson Park where the neo-Nazi group met before they planned to march on Mulberry, Lagrange, and Dexter streets and Bronson Avenue.

City leaders told reporters they have heard the group will try again to march in Toledo.

We are seeking legal action [to prevent them], but I don t think we will prevail, Mayor Ford added.

Carty Finkbeiner, who is challenging Mr. Ford in next month s election, primarily declined to comment on the riot. His campaign released a written statement that said: We should concentrate on healing the wounds and supporting the efforts of the neighborhood leaders to restore peace.

The reason the neo-Nazi group attempted to march in Toledo was still in dispute yesterday.

Chief Navarre told reporters that a resident of Bronson Avenue John Szych or someone in his family contacted the group.

The chief said there was a dispute over a fence between Mr. Szych s son, a white man who also lives on Bronson, and a black woman. He added that the older Mr. Szych has made repeated calls to police about gang or drug activity in the neighborhood.

Mr. Szych s calls were highly exaggerated and found to be without merit, the chief said.

But the elder Mr. Szych said neither he nor his relatives are members of the movement and no one in the family called the Nazi group. His house on the 500 block of Bronson, and his son s house several doors away, were both vandalized during the riot.

Mr. Szych said shots were fired at his house and a brick was thrown through his window, striking him in the back.

He responded by returning fire with his own gun.

Both Mr. Szych and his son said they stayed up all night with their firearms guarding their homes. Yesterday I shot over their heads, Mr. Szych said. But today, I m [upset]. If I see someone with a fire bomb or anything like that, I ll shoot to kill.

He threatened to sue the city and Chief Navarre for implicating him in the Nazi s march.

My whole family has been terrorized by this and our peace has been destroyed, he said, adding that the neighborhood is plagued with gangs and drugs.

A black neighbor, who declined to give his name, called Mr. Szych a racist who instigates violence with black residents.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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