PARIS, Texas (AP) — On one side of a downtown street in this eastern Texas town stood about 200 protesters, chanting “Black Power” and led by a group of New Black Panthers clad in paramilitary outfits and black berets. On the other side of the street stood a couple dozen counter-protesters, a few yelling
“White power!” while some skinheads waved Nazi flags.
In the end, state police in riot gear separated the groups, breaking up a standoff that ended with two arrests and no injuries.
The conflict began with a protest Tuesday by about 100 mostly black activists upset over the state’s handling of the case of a black man who was run over and dragged by a vehicle.
The crowd eventually ballooned to more than 200 people in the third courthouse protest in Paris over the death of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland, whose body was found Sept. 16 on a country road outside town. A prosecutor cited a lack of evidence in dropping murder charges last month against two white men arrested in his death.
The most dramatic moments Tuesday came when the demonstrators avoided a designated protest zone and continued to the town square. After several tense minutes of the groups shouting and inching closer together, about 35 state troopers wearing helmets and carrying shields marched into the crowd.
No blows were exchanged.
The protests were led by members of the Houston chapters of the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers both organizations to be black separatist groups and hate groups.
“We’re not here for confrontation. We are peaceful people, but if necessary we are prepared,” said Jimmy Blackwell, a black protest leader from the Tarrant County Local Organizing Committee.
Rock Banks, who identified himself as the grand titan of the East Texas Ku Klux Klan, said the Klan decided not to hold a rally because it would lead to more protests.
“If we showed up in force, with all of our robes on, they’d be back here in a month,” he said.
Few of Paris’ 26,000 residents watched the rally, which drew several dozen spectators.
McClelland’s mother, Jacquline, attended, as did the sister of one of the men originally accused of killing McClelland. Tracy White, whose brother is ex-defendant Charles Crostley, said the latest protest was “bull” but expressed disappointment at the presence of white supremacists.
Prosecutors initially charged Crostley and Shannon Finley with murdering McClelland by running him over with Finley’s pickup. But a special prosecutor dismissed the charges after a gravel truck driver came forward and said he might have accidentally run over McClelland.
Authorities have denied there was a racial angle in the case, pointing out that McClelland was friends with Finley and Crostley.
Associated Press writers John McFarland and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.