By Calvin Palmer
A dozen members of the New Black Panther Party gathered near a Texas courthouse this morning to join planned demonstrations against murder charges being dropped against two white men accused in the death of a black friend.
The Paris courthouse protest is the third one over death of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland, who was run over by a vehicle and dragged beneath it.
A separate “protest zone” was set up across the street for white supremacists and other counter-protesters.
But a march by about 100 black activists avoided their designated “protest zone” near the courthouse and marched to the town square to chants of “Black Power!” and “No justice, no peace!”
With about 200 black people on one side of the street and a dozen white supremacists, including four skinheads holding Nazi swastika flags, on the other side, a dozen or so law enforcement officers kept them apart.
After several tense minutes of screaming and the groups inching closer together, 35 Texas state troopers wearing helmets and carrying shields marched swiftly into the crowd. No blows were exchanged.
A skinhead carrying a Confederate flag and a shirtless white man were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct before the protesters separated peacefully, Paris police spokesman Lt. Danny Huff said.
“We’re not here for confrontation. We are peaceful people, but if necessary we are prepared,” said black protest leader Jimmy Blackwell.
Rock Banks, who says he’s the grand titan of the East Texas Ku Klux Klan, said his group met last week to discuss the event but decided not to hold a major 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.
McClelland’s body was found on September 16 on a country road outside of Paris, which is about 90 miles northeast of Dallas.
Prosecutors initially charged two of McClelland’s friends, Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley, with murdering him by running him over in Finley’s pickup truck. They estimated that McClelland’s body was dragged more than 70 feet beneath their vehicle. But a special prosecutor dismissed the charges last month, citing a lack of evidence, after a truck driver came forward and said he might have accidentally run over McClelland.
Protesters have said the McClelland case echoes the murder of James Byrd, a black man who was chained by the ankles to a pickup by three white men and dragged to death in 1998 in the eastern Texas town of Jasper.
Authorities have denied a racial angle in the McClelland death, pointing out that he was friends with Finley and Crostley.
The three of them were returning from a late-night beer run when McClelland died. After arguing over whether Finley was too drunk to drive, McClelland allegedly decided to walk home. Authorities said Finley then ran over McClelland.
Finley and Crostley, who were released after eight months in jail, have maintained their innocence.
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]