DAYTON, Ohio — City buses flashed “United Against Hate” on their electronic signboards. Coffee shops and record stores chalked anti-KKK messages on their sidewalk sandwich boards. Banners denouncing hate hung from buildings.
Saturday was supposed to be the day when a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan would descend upon Dayton, Ohio, in a show of strength. But in the end, the most palpable display of power was a city united in repelling the Klan’s hateful views.
Groups that typically have little to do with one another found common cause in drowning out the nine white supremacists who showed up in front of the Montgomery County courthouse and stood behind temporary fences and a phalanx of police officers. Among the counterprotesters, about a football field’s length away, were black-masked Antifa members, church groups, New Black Panthers, university students and retirees all chanting, drumming and singing together.
It was a far cry from Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when a rally of neo-Nazis and white nationalists descended into chaos and led to the death of a counterprotester.
In Dayton, there were no arrests, injuries or reports of violence. Someone in the crowd played the tuba.
“I am just overwhelmed with good spirit — all of these groups came together, and there was no violence,” said Lachashia Price, 28, a Dayton resident. “We are maturing as a city.”
It was not immediately clear what brought the white supremacist group, which is based in Indiana, to Dayton. The city, one of the nation’s most racially segregated, is something of a political bellwether for the state, and has seen economic declines in the past decade with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, voted for Barack Obama twice, and then for Donald J. Trump in 2016.
On Saturday, people of many political persuasions, numbering 500 to 600, according to police estimates, turned up to tune out the Klan.
“I am an avid and passionate supporter of the First Amendment,” said Daniel Fisher, from the Church of God in Greenville, Ohio. “But when the things you are protecting are meant to incite violence, people have a responsibility to come here and say hate is not a value.”
Members of his church, dressed in crisp white shirts and black vests, sang “Amazing Grace” and mingled with other demonstrators holding rifles and wearing bandannas over their faces.
The event “absolutely unified us,” Lisa Patrick, 49, said.
Dayton officials had warned residents to steer clear of downtown on Saturday, but it was largely business as usual away from the courthouse area. Residents ate pad thai lunches and perused the flower stands at the nearby Second Street Market.
Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton vowed to use the protest as a jumping point for further racial reform in the city.
“We are a community that can come together,” she said. “Dayton is still too segregated and unequal and that has to change, but this chapter is over.”
Ensuring a peaceful outcome did not come cheap. City officials put the price tag for security and other personnel at around $ 650,000.
“Some may be critical of this investment, but this investment was necessary,” Chief Richard Biehl of the Dayton Police Department said, citing the number of guns that protesters were carrying.
But the nonviolent protests ultimately sent a message that the city was inclusive, the mayor said: “I appreciated the passionate people who shouted their views loudly but peacefully.”