|November 28th, 2008, 07:16 PM||#1|
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Westboro at it again...
Published Saturday November 22, 2008
Westboro protest draws student counter protest
BY ANDREW J. NELSON AND KATIE FRETLAND
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERS
Members of a Kansas church that protests at the funerals of slain service members fled the right-of-way near Omaha Central High School on Friday because police said they could not protect them from hundreds of student counterprotesters.
Students threw hamburgers and bottles of lemonade and milk at several members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., students said after the protest. A video of the protest — recorded by 16-year-old student Mason Hartwell — showed one counterprotester on the ground, seated with his hands behind his back and flanked by two law enforcement officers.
Students chanted "Diversity," "Obama" and "Gay is OK." At one point, they broke into a chant of the Pledge of Allegiance, yelling, "Liberty and justice for all," according to the footage. After students dispersed, a flier remained on the ground reading "Zona libre de odio" — Spanish for "Hate-free zone."
Police said no one was injured and they made no arrests. However, a school resource officer at one point sprayed a chemical deterrent into the air.
Westboro protesters had demonstrated at two other locations in Omaha before heading to Central High. Six or seven were standing outside the school, near the corner of 20th and Dodge Streets, when school was dismissed at 2:50 p.m. and students began leaving.
Witnesses said the protesters held up signs that criticized homosexuality and characterized President-elect Barack Obama as the antichrist.
"Unfortunately, it got out of hand, with students throwing objects at the protesters and at police," Police Sgt. Cathy Martinec said as students walked off.
Police had arrived before the trouble began, but once the confrontation started, Martinec said she advised the church protesters that the situation had grown unsafe and that they should leave. They did.
Dodge Street was shut down about 3 p.m. as police calmed the disturbance. Students said they were expecting the demonstration: They found out online and through word of mouth.
Ari Brodkey, 16, held a sign reading "This Jew is not afraid of you." He called the demonstrators from the church "disgusting."
Counterprotesters included students from Omaha Central and Omaha North High Schools.
The church demonstrators "are wasting their time," said 16-year-old Patricia Gomez. "They're not gonna break us down."
KaTasha Cohen, 17, said church demonstrators would not change the way she thinks. She supports Obama.
Luanne Nelson, spokeswoman for the Omaha Public Schools, said no students were disciplined but that the school will review the situation on Monday.
"This hate group came to Central High at dismissal to provoke students," Nelson said. "The school's focus today was everyone's safety. . . . To some extent, we need to understand that these are young people, and we have to take into consideration this kind of extreme provocation."
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