NEW YORK (Oct. 12)
Two years after the Million Man March filled Washington’s central mall with supporters of Louis Farrakhan, two Jewish protesters are suing the National Park Police.
Ronn Torossian and Moshe Maoz claim that their civil rights were violated when police told them to leave the mall, tore signs out of their hands, and searched one of them and removed papers from his pocket, their attorney said in an interview.
The pair was at the Oct. 16, 1995 march representing AMCHA–Coalition for Jewish Concerns, a Riverdale, N.Y.-based group led by Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Attorney Gordon Pearson said the lawsuit would be filed this week in United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Torossian, 23, and Maoz, 24, are seeking as-yet-unspecified monetary damages, he said.
At the mall, they held signs reading “David Duke and Farrakhan: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” and “The Nation of Islam Is a Nation of Hate.”
Torossian said they were surrounded by between 50 and 100 African Americans, who at various times spat on them and shouted, “Hitler should have finished you off” and “We’re going to get you. Go home, Jew, go home.”
A National Park Police officer told them that they were inciting a riot and that they had to leave or else they would be arrested, he said.
“It’s despicable that they didn’t protect us,” Torossian said of the police. “They have an obligation to protect those who peacefully protest.”
The pair’s treatment “was a violation of their First and Fourth Amendment rights,” which permit free speech on public property and protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, Pearson said.
His firm is handling the case without charge at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union, which offered its services to Torossian and Maoz shortly after the march.
Maj. James McLaughlin, who was the commander in charge of the hundreds of police officers on duty that day, said in an interview that he does not recall any report of the two men’s demonstration at the time.
But in responding to their account of what happened, he said, “Beyond [concern over an individual's civil] rights is public safety, and we have to make sure we don’t have a riot on our hands,” said McLaughlin, who is now the spokesman for the National Park Police.
“Any time we have a group which is going to cause a disruption at an event, for their own safety we tell them to leave the area. If a skinhead or member of the Ku Klux Klan should show up somewhere we would remove them.”
In a separate legal action brought by Jewish protesters around Nation of Islam events, AMCHA’s Weiss is suing Howard University and one of its security guards.
Weiss claims that a security guard grabbed a sign from him struck him on the hand while ordering him and four other protesters to stop their April 1994 demonstration outside a university auditorium where Nation of Islam leader Khalid Muhammed was appearing.
The case is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 19, also in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Weiss is seeking over $100,000 in damages.