Black community leaders urged residents Wednesday to ignore a scheduled march through Parramore by the same group of neo-Nazis that sparked a riot in Toledo, Ohio.
"If a fire has no oxygen, it goes out. Don't fuel the fire," said the Rev. Charles Jackson, pastor of Hurst Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, during a news conference on the front steps of the Callahan Community Center.
Members of the National Socialist Movement received a permit for a one-mile march through the predominantly black neighborhood beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday in front of the Orlando Police Department. A spokesman for the Roanoke, Va.-based group said the purpose of the march is to increase local support and publicize that "the crime problem is a race problem."
"We are going to show up, demonstrate, make our point and leave Orlando with a better understanding of its problem," spokesman Bill White said.
Under a response dubbed "Operation Be Cool," community leaders and the Police Department hope to avoid a repeat of Toledo, where angry counter-demonstrators clashed with police in anticipation of a march by a few members of the National Socialist Movement. The riot in October resulted in 114 arrests and 12 injured officers.
The Orlando police, NAACP, black ministers and other leaders are urging people to avoid the area during the march. Posters on storefronts along West Church Street urge residents to "Dis & Dismiss Ignorant Racists. "They expect you to come downtown to confront them. Be Cool! Don't be drawn into violence."
"Stay home. Stay away. There won't be a problem. Everybody will be safe, and it will be over," police Chief Michael McCoy said. At the Wednesday news conference, the black leaders and police officials were joined by a member of an Islamic organization that is opening its headquarters on Parramore Avenue.
"We have a unity of different faiths and different backgrounds to show we are against this particular show of racism and bigotry," said Christopher Cusano, director of the Orlando branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.