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Why We Are in Trouble in Iraq

(Photo Essay)

I am in Lansing Michigan outside the state capital on 22 APR 06, over the weekend on a business trip from Washington D.C.

I am visiting my father who lives in Lansing.  We plan to go to the Oldsmobile museum, but something interesting brews on Michigan Avenue.  The Nazis from Minnesota have come to town.

More than a few people aren't happy with this.  800 people appear in all to include 70 Nazis, a handful of Nazi supporters, 200 bystanders, and about 500 counter-protesters.  The mission of the counter-protesters is to make enough noise to drown out the rhetoric of the Nazis.

After violence that occurred in Florida and Ohio over Nazi appearances, the police have come to Lansing in force.  It is an impressive security set up put together by people who know their stuff.  500 police officers, to include the Lansing police, State police, police from surrounding communities, and apparently, SWAT members, allow counter-protesters to get close enough to satisfy their need to disrupt the Nazis, yet keep them far enough away to maintain control.  I am at a security checkpoint that screens people for weapons before they enter the protest area.

The police have also brought out the cavalry.  Men on horseback have served as crowd control since the dawn of recorded history.  Their presence pacifies the crowd at this gate.

Nazis aren't popular in Lansing, Michigan.  They stand isolated on the state capital steps.  To me, they look like cast members from The Producers

The police mean business.  A thin blue line of police officers, armed with batons, stand at the ready between the handful of Nazi supporters and the rest of the crowd.  An officer in command instructs the crowd to stay back from this line.

A lot of people gather in the protest area set aside for those against the Nazis.

The crowd is a little light in the area set aside for the Nazi supporters.  More police officers stand in the area protecting the Nazi supporters than do Nazi supporters.

10 Minutes before the schedule calls for demonstration to end, the thin blue line gets a little thicker.  The police commander running the show does so with conductor like precision.  Police also man the rooftops and watch the crowd with binoculars. 

At precisely 4:00, the Nazis clear the state capital steps.  The police demand that the crowd leave the area immediately.  The crowd generally listens, with a couple of media exceptions.

A voice of authority bellows from the police station.  They mean what they say.  It is time to go.

We walk back to the parking garage.  Two runners jostle us, Nazi supporters, and then a counter-protester crowd follows after them.

Counter-protesters hurl bottles and rocks at Nazi supporters. 

A group of counter-protesters catches, punches, and kicks an apparent Nazi supporter.  One of them yells that I have a camera.  I head up to the next level of the parking garage.

Additional cameras arrive.  This seems to temper the mob.  The target of their attack makes his escape.

The motorcycle police arrive.  Sirens blare. 

Police video also arrives.  Video serves to control the crowd here.  The perpetrators of the violence look like local students.  They have something to lose if caught and prosecuted.  The police know this and use it to their advantage...

...because an assault with weapons that leaves injuries like these is a felony in this country.  Police come up to escort this individual out. 

The cavalry arrives to clear the rest of the alley out.

The SWAT team pushes through the parking garage and tells us it is time to go.  This directive forces us into the middle of a counter-protester march.

It's hard to argue with the slogans on the signs we make our way through the crowd.  People within this crowd spit on our car.  They smash the window of a police patrol car.

That made me think.

I am in the middle of America with people who, though they have never been personally harmed by the events of 60 and 70 years ago, are well trained by their culture to hate people they identify as Nazis.  I share the view about the deplorability of Nazi ideals.  500 police officers on site, all well armed and trained, cannot keep the counter-protesters from putting two Nazi supporters in the hospital and significantly wounding a third. 

So what if, instead of deploying 500 police officers, Lansing could send just 2, 3 or even 10 police officers to keep that peace?  What if, instead of the crowd being mostly American, with something to lose, and pre-screened for weapons, the crowd is a displaced people, with nothing to lose, well supplied with arms, with an intent to kill?

For every person a given police officer had to watch in this crowd in Lansing, the American soldier abroad watches 500.  Now imagine asking the counter-protesters to start a dialog with the Nazis so the two can live together in peace and the police can go home.

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Copyright 2006 Robert L. Cantrell All Rights Reserved