Pastor Jones rally cost the city at least $50,000 for public safety

May 3, 2011

Dearborn - A Quran-burning pastor finally got to protest Friday, and although the violence predicted by city officials never materialized, there were moments when a full-on riot looked imminent.

Pastor Terry Jones and his assistant, Wayne Sapp, took turns for about an hour on the top step of City Hall addressing a hundred or so supporters and as many as 500 counter-demonstrators.

Speaking through a muffled public address system that often was drowned out by the chants of counter-demonstrators, car horns and a low-flying Michigan State Police helicopter, the men preached their message of the U.S. Constitution over Shariah, or Islamic law.

Both men interspersed Gospel passages with grave warnings about the spread of radical Islam in Europe and the danger of it happening in the United States.

Sapp at one point implied that the counter-demonstrators - who were mostly, but not all, of Arabic descent - were not trustworthy because they did not support his message.

"Today you stand there and you say I will not take a stand against radical Islam," he said. "If we can't trust you now, how can we trust you won't do the same?"

And what had been an otherwise peaceful demonstration turned disorderly about an hour in when Jones left the lectern and walked toward the opposing crowd.

Jones descended the steps and walked through a parting throng of supporters toward a metal barricade perimeter along the sidewalk in front of the building.

As he approached the barricade, at least a hundred counter-demonstrators rushed across the five lanes of Michigan Avenue, with some throwing shoes and water bottles at Jones. Between the groups were the fence Jones stood behind, about 20 feet of sidewalk dotted with area police, and then another wooden and metal barricade along Michigan Avenue.

The angry crowd shouted, "Go home!" while Jones' supporters fired back, "Go back to your country!" One Jones supporter loudly chanted "Jesus" at the counter-demonstrators as police struggled to hold the barricades in place.

Almost immediately after the rush across Michigan Avenue, police in riot gear filed out of the City Hall basement and within a couple of minutes, the counter-demonstrators were back on the north side of the street. City officials said three people were arrested for breach of the peace-type crimes but no injuries were reported.

After the tension abated, Jones returned to the podium and repeatedly recited the Pledge of Allegiance for about 15 minutes before ending the demonstration an hour earlier than was scheduled.

Mayor Jack O'Reilly, who along with Arabic community leaders helped police separate the crowds, said he asked Jones before the event not to approach the fence.

"We did everything we could to facilitate him and made that one simple request and he goes up there and spends the entire time he spoke trying to agitate and provoke the crowd, and then he throws his arms up like, ‘What? Aren't you going to do something?'" O'Reilly said.

There was a heavy police presence, including uniformed and undercover officers. Police Chief Ronald Haddad said there were about 60 plainclothes officers dotting both groups of demonstrators.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Jones has been in town to spread his anti-Shariah, anti-jihad message.

Jones' planned protest April 22 at the Islamic Center of America was canceled when he and Sapp were put on trial before 19th District Judge Mark Somers and found guilty of the likelihood that their protest would breach the peace. The message this time around was the same, but grew to include First Amendment concerns stemming from the trial.

Jones, a resident of Gainesville, Fla., said afterward that he "definitely" would be back to Dearborn and expressed surprise with the conflict.

"I'm a little surprised, yeah," he said. "I know people get emotional, and I understand that. But I was surprised that it got a little bit out of hand."

For city officials, seeing Jones and Sapp leave was welcome. They cost the city at least $50,000 for public safety over the course of their two visits and countless hours of shifted attention for police and other city employees.

O'Reilly said Jones has "little depth of character."

"Here is a man who claims to be a man of God and he is nothing but a charlatan, an agitator looking for money so he can help protect people against this evil thing that he has manufactured," said O'Reilly, intoning sarcasm with "evil thing."

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