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Riot Police Storm Texas Town After Black, White Protesters Clash Over Dragging Death

JEFF CARLTON   07/21/09 11:35 PM ET   AP

Dragging Death

PARIS, Texas — State police in riot gear rushed a downtown street to break up a standoff Tuesday between hundreds of black and white extremists who exchanged screams of "Black power!" and "White power!" during a protest over the state's handling of the case of a black man who was run over and dragged by a vehicle.

A skinhead carrying a Nazi flag and a shirtless white man were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of suspicion of disorderly conduct before the protesters separated peacefully, police spokesman Lt. Danny Huff said.

The conflict began with a march by about 100 mostly black activists who avoided a designated "protest zone" near Paris' courthouse and walked to the town square to chants of "Black Power!" and "No Justice, no peace!"

"We're going to be boxed in?" said protest leader Jimmy Blackwell of the Tarrant County Local Organizing Committee. "No, we're not your slaves!"

Once at the town square, the crowd ballooned to about 200 mostly black people on one side of a street. Across the street were about a dozen white supremacists, including four skinheads holding Nazi swastika flags. About 30 other white people were behind them.

The two sides shouted at each other while a dozen or so law enforcement officers kept them apart. After the groups screamed for several minutes and inched closer together, about 35 state troopers wearing helmets and carrying shields marched into the crowd. No blows were exchanged.

The rally in Paris, about 90 miles northeast of Dallas, is the third courthouse protest over the death of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland, whose mangled body was found Sept. 16 on a country road.

Prosecutors initially charged two of McClelland's white friends with murdering him. 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.

Some of the signs at the protest read, "Friends don't drag friends under pickup trucks" and "Who killed Brandon McClelland?" Another sign referred to the district attorney as a "Weapon of Mass Destruction."

The protest was led by members of the Houston chapters of the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers black separatist and hate groups.

Things grew tense early on when a member of the Panthers walked into the protest zone set up for white supremacists and stood inches away from a skinhead. The skinhead screamed at the black man to go home as the two stood inches apart.

"We're not here for confrontation. We are peaceful people, but if necessary we are prepared," Blackwell said.

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.

Banks' wife, Donna Hupburn, said protesters were "trying to stir up racial unrest" and should instead focus on "trying to close crack houses."

"You're allowed to have gay pride, black pride, Korean pride," she said. "Everybody is allowed to have pride but Caucasians."

Few of Paris' 26,000 residents watched the rally, which drew several dozens spectators.

Some said they were tired of the attention the protests were bringing to Paris. Roger Hutchings, an employee at a pipe fabrication facility where employees have claimed racial bias, said the protest was making the town appear to have a racial problem he does not believe exists.

"People here get along pretty good," said Hutchings, who is white.

Prosecutors initially accused Charles Crostley and Shannon Finley of murdering McClelland by running him over in Finley's pickup after a late-night beer run. They estimated that McClelland's body was dragged more than 70 feet.

Finley and Crostley, who were released after eight months in jail, have maintained their innocence.

McClelland's mother, Jacquline, who attended the rally, said she wanted answers about her son's death "so I can get some rest and my son can get some peace."

This was the week Finley's trial was scheduled to start.

"They dismissed the charges, but we did not dismiss the charges," said Deric Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. "Today, we declare Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley guilty."

Crostley's sister, Tracy White, said her brother was devastated by McClelland' death.

"They make me mad because my brother is not involved in anything like that," she said of the white supremacists.

Previous protests over the case by the Panthers and the Nation of Islam were mostly peaceful and resulted in no arrests. A handful of white supremacists have showed up each time.

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Associated Press writers John McFarland and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Filed by Marcus Baram  |