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'Wahoo' effigy-burners await charges; Court TV to air
14 Apr 1998 13:53:17
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April 14, 1998
Office of Communication
United Church of Christ
On the Web: http://www.ucc.org
Wahoo' effigy-burners await charges; Court TV to air
Cleveland trial April 17
CLEVELAND As five protestors await charges for
an April 10 effigy-burning outside Jacobs Field, a national
cable network is planning this week to air tape of an earlier
trial in which a judge found no evidence of crime in a similar
demonstration last fall.
Vernon Bellecourt of Minneapolis and Juan Reyna of
Cleveland were among the five arrested about noon Friday,
April 10, for burning effigies on a plaza outside the baseball
stadium before Cleveland's American League home opener.
They are American Indians who consider the team's bright-
red, feather-capped "Chief Wahoo" logo, together with the
name "Indians," to be racist, demeaning and disrespectful of
their cultural and spiritual heritage.
The latest arrest came only three days after a
Municipal Court judge had thrown out charges against
Bellecourt, Reyna and Juanita Helphrey in connection with
similar demonstrations outside a World Series game in
The trial that ended with that ruling by Judge Kathleen
Keough will be featured by Court TV, the national cable
network, on Friday, April 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.
Judge Keough, in dismissing the case April 7 after two
days of trial, said the City of Cleveland had failed to produce
enough evidence to support charges that the protestors' actions
on Oct. 23 had risen to a level of criminal trespass, criminal
endangering, disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. She ruled
there was no evidence that Bellecourt, in burning an
effigy of "Chief Wahoo," and Reyna and Helphrey, in
refusing to leave a separate protest site, had done anything
more than exercise their free-speech rights in appropriate
Bellecourt, president of the National Coalition Against
Racism in Sports and Media, and Reyna, who chairs a
Cleveland coalition called the Committee of 500 Years of
Dignity and Resistance, returned with about two dozen protestors
on Friday, April 10. They demonstrated with signs, a sound
system and, this time, two effigies bearing various faces,
including those of "Chief Wahoo," "Black Sambo" and team
owner Richard Jacobs.
As soon as fire was set to the effigies, police
extinguished them and arrested five people for either burning
them or holding poles from which they were hung. They were
Bellecourt and Reyna; Charlene Teters, Santa Fe, N.M., an
American Indian activist; and two men who belong to Reyna's
group: Zizwe Tchugika, Cleveland, an African American, and
James Watson, Lakewood, Ohio, a European American.
The five were jailed overnight, then released Saturday
afternoon and evening, April 11, without being charged or
required to post bond. Police spokespersons told reporters that
the demonstrators were being held on suspicion of arson and
that an investigator would consult with the prosecutor's office
the week of April 13 about formal charges.
More protests went on without the jailed leaders
and without further arrests outside the game on Saturday,
April 11. After their Saturday release, the five returned to the
protests before the game on Sunday, April 12, but police
confiscated an effigy before it could be burned. Again, there
were no further arrests.
The United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, a
mission agency of the United Church of Christ -- where Helphrey
works as a racial-justice advocate -- has been helping with
protestors' defense costs and has started a Legal Defense Fund for
Indigenous People Resisting Racism for that purpose (call 216-736-
3260 for details or to contribute). Reyna also urges people to
contact the Committee of 500 Years, P.O. Box 620151,
Cleveland, OH 44102-0151 (phone 216-631-4767), for more
information or to contribute.
The United Church of Christ, with national offices in
Cleveland, has some 1.5 million members and 6,100 local
churches in the Untied States and Puerto Rico. Its General
Synod, a national body of delegates that meets every two
years, went on record in 1991 as opposing the "negative
stereotyping" of American Indians in sports and commerce.
In the UCC's decentralized form of governance, member and
local congregations are free to hold opinions that differ from
those of the General Synod.
# # #
[EDITORS: To arrange interviews with anyone named in
this release, contact Hans Holznagel or Arthur Cribbs at the
numbers at the top of Page 1. For detailed background, see the
UCC Web site, < http://www.ucc.org > . To check with Court
TV, phone Michael Christian, senior field producer, 212-973-
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