A rally by an Indiana Ku Klux Klan group in Dayton’s Courthouse Square resulted in no major problems or violence Saturday. The event drew hundreds of police officers from across the Miami Valley and the state of Ohio, and crowds of counterdemonstrators, who flooded downtown Dayton to protest the KKK.
The protestors vastly outnumbered the nine Klan members who had traveled more than 100 miles from Indiana to rally inside a fenced-off plaza in Dayton’s Courthouse Square.
City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild joined counterprotesters downtown, praising Dayton residents for coming out in the high humidity and heat to stand together against a hate group.
“Dayton wants to be a place that welcomes everyone who comes," the commissioner told WYSO, "and we want people to feel welcome here. But if you want to come and make others feel unwelcome we're not going to tolerate that.”
Montgomery County's approval for the rally in February sparked legal challenges by the city, and months of discussion and planning by elected officials, community activists and law enforcement.
After the event, Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein told reporters extra safety precautions were needed to prevent the kind of violence seen at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"The Supreme Court has mandated speech cannot be financially burdened because it offends many," she says. "The city provided these security measures to protect our residents and ensure that everyone could safely exercise their First Amendment rights. The police department, in the interest of public safety, determined that these measures were required to protect our residents."
Dayton officials say the heightened security will cost the city at least $650,000.
“Some may be critical of this investment. Unfortunately in today's world, where we have seen vehicles driven into crowds of peaceful protesters, we feel this investment was necessary.”
Dayton 57-year-old Kimaru Watenza called the overwhelming police response "absurd."
"These people are just paper dragons. That’s all they are," he says, recalling his childhood in Alabama, when his father took him to watch the Klan burning crosses.
"They were a big deal then. They’re not a big deal now. This is absurd.”
Watenza says the city should be spending its limited resources to improve education and boost the quality of life in Dayton for all residents.
“I’m appalled that we are paying for this, for all of these people, all of these police. There are hundreds of them and we are paying for them for some sociopaths to come down and talk," he says. "Why?”
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl called the security planning process and execution "flawless," noting it was difficult to predict attendance, with crowd estimates complicated by social media reports and various groups holding multiple events throughout the city on Saturday, as well as Ohio law allowing firearms into protest areas.
"There were no arrests, there were no use of force by police, there were no injuries to anyone in attendance. There were no citations issued. Generally speaking, from a public safety perspective, very uneventful, despite the amount of resources deployed," he says.
The Dayton Police Department was assisted in its security preparations by federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, and police departments from across the Miami Valley and the state, including the Ohio State Patrol, the Montgomery County sheriff's office, the cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley praised the city's efforts to protect the free speech rights of both the KKK group and the counterprotesters.
The mayor also expressed frustration over the city's steep financial investment, and the months of staff time that went into planning and executing the event.
"This has been a huge time suck for the police department, the city manager, the fire department, every department the city of Dayton, and it's for people that aren't even from our community. It stinks, but we are grateful that I think we made some lemonade here," she says.
But Whaley struck a hopeful tone, saying she hopes the Indiana Klan group's appearance in Dayton would galvanize a deeper ongoing conversation about how to bridge divides in the segregated city.
"It has helped shine a light on the issues that continue to divide us and all the work we still have to do to make our community a place of opportunity for everyone. Dayton is still too segregated and still too unequal. This is unacceptable and something that we must keep focused on to change every single day," she says. "This ugly chapter is over but it means we have to get back to the real work of making sure that no matter what you look like, where you come from or who you love, that you can have a great life here in Dayton. I am committed to this work and I know my fellow commissioners are committed to it as well."
As part of the city's security efforts, crews closed streets surrounding Courthouse Square beginning Thursday. RTA buses were rerouted from Wright Stop Plaza to the Dayton Metro Library's downtown branch.
The city erected high fencing covered with fabric to obscure the view around Courthouse Square.
Police used dump trucks and other large vehicles and special barricades to block traffic from entering the area from all directions.
They also installed fences to block off the intersection of Main Street and Third Street, and prevent potential clashes between supporters of the KKK and counterdemonstrators.
“We’re not pro-this or pro-that but I think with all the police and everybody else, it’s an interesting day,” Dayton resident Justin, who didn't want to give his last name, told WYSO.
He came downtown with two friends to experience what he called, "a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
Calling the city's months-long investment of resources into the rally "unfortunate," he says he supports the city's decision to keep counterprotesters and Klan supporters separated in the interest of public safety.
“It’s a great idea. There’s freedom of speech, that’s right. There’s freedom of protest. And the best way to keep a disaster from happening is, everybody’s got their own area. I don’t think anybody is coming down here to really cause violence or start anything. I think everybody has different views,” he says.
Throughout the day Saturday, only a couple of vocal Klan supporters gathered on Third Street, where police had directed the Indiana group's supporters, to watch the rally inside Courthouse Square.
In the afternoon groups of counterprotesters, including some black-clad members of antifa, left Main Street, designated as the counterprotest side of the square, to gather on Third Street.
They held signs and shouted at the Klan, chanting, "cowards, cowards," as the Klan group waved Confederate and American flags from the other side of the fence.
Black helicopters hovered over downtown Dayton throughout the day, and law enforcement agents on rooftops around Courthouse Square surveyed the crowds below using binoculars.
Law enforcement was heavily visible during the event, with dozens of police in riot gear, on horseback and on bicycle coordinating with Dayton Police officers and officers from other Miami Valley departments patrolling downtown on foot.
There was also a visible police presence at the Dayton Unit NAACP-sponsored block party type “Afternoon of Love, Unity, Peace and Inclusion” event at nearby McIntosh Park, which featured live music and ice cream.
In all, Dayton officials estimate attendance at Saturday's four event locations was approximately 600 people at Courthouse Square, three dozen people at RiverScape Park, 200 people at McIntosh Park and another 30 people at Oak and Ivy Park.
No issues were reported at any of the city's events throughout Saturday afternoon.
"This was a very safe day for the city of Dayton, not only in the downtown area, but all event venues and in the entire city of Dayton," Chief Biehl says.
Read more about Saturday's events here.