DETROIT (FOX 2) - A video circulating showing a police presence around a group of Neo Nazis at the Motor City Pride festival over the weekend is raising concern.
Chief Craig has spoken out now several times about the festival, saying the police weren't "escorting" or "protecting" the group but rather keeping them separate from an Antifa group who also came to the parade. Here's a direct quote from Chief Craig, as he explained it Tuesday morning to the Detroit City Council:
"One of the issues that we were most concerned about, that is if this thing were to escalate - we got an armed hate group that we needed to make sure that we proactively kept the hate group away from the Antifa. So at some point it did start to escalate and so we deployed what we call a roving barrier - not an escort as what some are trying to put out. This is a group that I deplore; this is a group that I deplore, and my first concern was for the safety of everyone. Again, we had a hate group that was armed, who was very aggressive about trying to incite violence. That didn't work. At one point during the gathering they had expressed a desire to burn the gay pride flag; we said if you do that you will be arrested. So that did not happen. So we were very assertive. We did learn lessons from Charlottesville. One of the things that went sorely wrong in Charlottesville was they allowed the two groups to interface. That was not going to happen here in Detroit.
"Again, I stress to you - this hate group was armed. Two rifles, three pistols. They had a legal advisor with them. They were deploying video cameras so it was in our judgement, we believed they were going to try to incite the Antifa group, so in the event that there was an attack they could deploy weapons. But we didn't want that to happen so it was very certain we needed to create a barrier, a roving barrier, which we did do. It was never an escort, to escort this deplorable hate group. Rather it was to keep them separate from the other group, who was agitating as well. Antifa was very aggressive; they were also hurtling racial epithets at our officers. Again, I insist I was on the ground in between both the hate group that was armed and also Antifa who was wearing masks across the street."
Here is some Facebook video that shows a group of Detroit police officers walking with the Neo Nazi group.
Earlier Craig had said during a different news conference that the department had intel that the Neo Nazis planned to interrupt the Motor Pride Festival with hopes of creating “Charlottesville 2.0." The incident in Charlottesville was a conflict between protesters and counter protesters in Virginia, which resulted in three deaths and multiple injuries.
As mentioned above, Chief Craig - who personally responded to the potentially violent situation - says five of the Neo Nazis were armed, with two long guns and three handguns.
Free speech and open carry is a person’s right, and not unlawful behavior, Chief Craig reiterated.
Meanwhile, Detroit officers were seen at the parade with pride buttons and at least one Detroit police cruiser was also decorated with the pride flag.
“We kept both groups [the Neo Nazis and Antifa] separated,” said Chief Craig. “We had good communication with both groups and as it turned out, there was no violence. So for me, I applaud the Detroit police department again for keeping lines of communication open.”
Craig said Wednesday that although they had intel the Neo Nazis were coming to the parade, they didn't know for sure which is why City Council was also not aware. Craig said the members who flew in from out of state didn't do so until that Saturday morning, and left the next day.
Councilmember Mary Sheffield stated for the record during the meeting as well that Council did not approve any permits for any additional groups at the parade.
“This could have been a bad situation had it erupted into violence. It did not - and for any critiques that say we were escorting a national socialist movement, we were keeping two groups separate and in doing so we did walk at points with them to keep the opposing side away,” Chief Craig said.