Seven people were arrested Saturday night during a protest outside the Omaha police union hall that included leaving three pig heads in costume police caps on the grounds.
An Omaha police spokesman said pending charges include trespassing, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, obstructing, littering and unlawful assembly. Social media posts by some who attended the protest said all of the arrestees, including Alexander “Bear” Matthews, were bailed out of jail early Sunday.
Matthews, 24, was arrested on suspicion of obstructing a police officer, disorderly conduct, trespassing, inciting a riot and failure to disperse. Matthews’ former group, ProBLAC Omaha, has helped put together several rallies in support of Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues.
The incident occurred after a gathering organized by the Revolutionary Action Party in Montclair Park, 2304 S. 135th St., that started at 7 p.m. Speakers at the gathering, which was described as a “pig roast,” condemned the Omaha Police Officers Association and its president, Anthony Conner, for distributing a flyer targeting independent City Council candidate Cammy Watkins as being anti-police.
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Watkins later lost the election to Democrat Danny Begley, who disavowed knowledge of the flyers. Speakers at the rally also attacked Begley and the Nebraska Democratic Party for not doing enough in response to the flyers.
Matthews said the pig roast in the park went well, with people enjoying typical picnic food, including roast pork. After a series of speakers, the group headed over to the union hall to leave copies of the Watkins flyers and the heads of three pigs that they had gotten from a packinghouse worker.
“Everything was beautiful, we were grilling out, and it was just a typical cookout,” Matthews said. “We wanted to finish up by dropping off the pig heads and the flyers at the union doors.”
None of the protesters who were arrested were injured, Matthews said. Everyone was out of jail by 4 a.m., he said.
An Omaha police spokesman said that about 8:50 p.m., a crowd of 40 to 50 people left the grounds of the park and marched a short distance to the union hall near 134th Street and West Center Road. Several social media posts show some marchers carrying real heads of pigs.
The pig heads and some of the union’s flyers criticizing Watkins were left outside the union hall. Members of the group spoke over megaphones for about 20 minutes to the crowd outside the union hall, police said.
Social media video shows several police cruisers pulling into the north parking lot during a speech. Protesters appear to line the sidewalk as police stand by their cruisers.
Police said four announcements were made over a 10-minute period, telling the protesters that they were trespassing on private property and must leave. A command officer, police said, declared an unlawful assembly at 9:10 p.m. and ordered the protesters to leave.
The police spokesman said, “Officers then moved in to arrest instigators and the crowd fled westbound towards the park” or stood in the street, refusing to move. Officers identified instigators who were subsequently arrested at Montclair Park.
Conner, the police union president, has defended the campaign flyer that the protesters were denouncing. It urged a no vote for Watkins, with bullet points that read: “Risking our families’ safety,” “Increasing violent crime and gun violence” and “Jeopardizing Omaha’s future.”
The other side of the flyer included a photo of a fiery scene, with two people who appear to be rescue workers, next to the words: “In Cammy Watkins’ Omaha, no one is safe.”
After the protest outside the union hall, Conner posted photos of the pig heads on his Facebook page.
“What part of this is okay? Pay attention to those that are denouncing this act and those that are silent,” Conner wrote. “Remember, according to some, your silence is violence and agreement to this despicable act.”
Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican, issued a statement Sunday condemning the protest. He blamed Nebraska Democrats and state party leader Jane Kleeb for the group’s behavior.
“This ongoing behavior is despicable,” Bacon said on his Twitter account. “Dehumanizing those who serve and protect our community is shameful. It is way past time for @janekleeb, @Nebraskadems, @votedcdems to call out this behavior and say they won’t tolerate it.”
This is an awful action and not one supported by the Democratic Party. Not sure why you asked me though other than to keep portraying us as on the other side of cops which we aren’t—reminder it was your party’s supporters who attacked cops and Capitol.— Jane Fleming Kleeb (@janekleeb) May 23, 2021
Kleeb denied supporting the action in a response to Bacon on Twitter.
“This is an awful action and not one supported by the Democratic Party,” Kleeb wrote. “Not sure why you asked me though other than to keep portraying us as on the other side of cops which we aren’t — reminder it was your party’s supporters who attacked cops and Capitol.”
The Revolutionary Action Party issued a statement Sunday afternoon that said police intentionally targeted people of color to arrest, leaving Whites alone. A review of the Douglas County Jail booking sheet found two of the arrestees at the protest were listed as White, four as Black and one as Hispanic.
The statement also included three demands. “1, The Nebraska Democratic Party and Douglas County Democratic Party must renounce and refuse any endorsements or financial support from the OPOA. 2, Danny Begley must come out with an adequate apology and adequate policy to implement that would combat these racist southern strategies to flourish in our community. 3, Anthony Connor (stet) must resign.”
In response to the statement, Kleeb said no donations have been received from the police union. She also said the Democratic Party of Nebraska did not support Saturday night’s protest.
“Our party also does not support the actions of a small group of individuals who have no role in our party leadership,” she wrote. “We condemn the racist mailers sent by the police union. We at the same time never support calling men and women who protect communities on a daily basis ‘pigs.’ None of this heated rhetoric is meant to create change.
“Our Democratic Party is focused on police reform like what (U.S.) Senator (Cory) Booker has introduced at the federal level and that we hope Don Bacon and others who represent our state will support to show — especially the Black community — that Republicans actually do care about their lives.”
A voicemail message for Conner seeking comment about the demand that he resign was not immediately returned.