FBI nabs man it says planned July 4 attacks on Cleveland, Philadelphia

Fireworks at Morningside 7-4-17

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI has arrested a man who it said planned to bomb Cleveland’s Fourth of July celebrations and then stand by and watch “it go off,” federal officials said on Monday.

Demetrius Pitts, 48, who had expressed allegiance to the al Qaeda militant group, was arrested on Sunday after a meeting with an undercover FBI agent where he said he planned to plant a bomb at a parade celebrating the U.S. Independence Day holiday and intended to target other locations in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Many major American cities mark the holiday with fireworks and parades, and typically ramp up security around such events.

An undercover FBI agent helped Pitts pick the location for his planned attack, near a planned fireworks show and multiple U.S. government buildings, the FBI said.

“I’m gonna be downtown when the – when the thing go off. I’m gonna be somewhere cuz I wanna see it go off,” Pitts told an undercover FBI agent who he believed was affiliated with al Qaeda, the FBI said in court documents.

Pitts also suggested giving the children of military personnel remote control cars packed with explosives during the parade so the kids would unwittingly detonate the bombs, the FBI said.

Pitts was charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

An FBI source gave Pitts a bus pass and a phone to conduct surveillance ahead of his planned attack, prosecutors said.

Pitts, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, also discussed possibly traveling to San Francisco for reconnaissance for al Qaeda, the FBI said.

It was not immediately clear if he had retained a lawyer, and relatives could not be reached for comment.

“This defendant, by his own words and by his own deeds, wanted to attack our nation and its ideals,” said Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for northern Ohio.

Officials said Pitts is an American citizen who had been radicalized in the United States.

In 2015, U.S. law enforcement officials said they had arrested more than 10 people inspired by the Islamic State militant group ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, saying the arrests had disrupted planned attacks.

A pair of ethnic Chechen brothers inspired by al Qaeda killed three people and injured more than 260 with a pair of homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Jeffrey Benkoe, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

Facebook murder suspect remains at large as police ask public for help

(Reuters) – A murder suspect who police said posted a video of himself on Facebook shooting an elderly man in Cleveland remained on the loose on Tuesday as authorities appealed to the public for help in the case.

Police said they have received “dozens and dozens” of tips and possible sightings of the suspect, Steve Stephens, and tried to persuade him to turn himself in when they spoke with him via his cellphone on Sunday after the shooting.

But Stephens remained at large as the search for him expanded nationwide, police said.

The shooting marked the latest video clip of a violent crime to turn up on Facebook, raising questions about how the world’s biggest social media network moderates content.

The company on Monday said it would begin reviewing how it monitors violent footage and other objectionable material in response to the killing.

Police said Stephens used Facebook Inc’s service to post video of him killing Robert Godwin Sr., 74.

Stephens is not believed to have known Godwin, a retired foundry worker who media reports said spent Easter Sunday morning with his son and daughter-in-law before he was killed.

“I want him to know what he took from us. He took our dad,” Godwin’s daughter Tammy told CNN on Monday night. “My heart is broke.”

During the same interview, his son Robby Miller said that he wanted the shooter brought to justice and for his family to have closure.

“I forgive him because we are all sinners,” he said. “If you are out there, if you’re listening, turn yourself in.”

Facebook vice president Justin Osofsky said the company was reviewing the procedure that users go through to report videos and other material that violates the social media platform’s standards. The shooting video was visible on Facebook for nearly two hours before it was reported, the company said.

Stephens, who has no prior criminal record, is not suspected in any other murders, police said.

The last confirmed sighting of Stephens was at the scene of the homicide. Police said he might be driving a white or cream-colored Ford Fusion, and asked anyone who spots him or his car to call police or a special FBI hotline (800-CALLFBI).

(Writing by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)

Curbs on excessive force proposed for Cleveland police

Police officer at Republican convention

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Cleveland police would face new limits on the use of force under proposals issued on Thursday by a group charged with monitoring the city’s police department, after a U.S. Justice Department report highlighted abuses by some of its officers.

The report came just weeks after Tamir Rice, aged 12, was shot and killed by a rookie Cleveland police officer in November 2014, triggering national outrage over another case involving a young African-American who died at the hands of police.

Rice was shot after a 911 caller reported someone waving a gun outside a city recreation center. Investigators later determined he had been in possession of a replica-type gun that shot pellets, not bullets.

Changes proposed by the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team – a group of 17 national experts and community activists – include a requirement that officers use de-escalation tactics before resorting to force, such as creating distance from the threat involved.

Officers would also be required to provide medical aid, rather than just request aid, for anyone injured after the use of force. Cleveland officers were roundly criticized for waiting eight minutes before providing first aid to the wounded Rice, who died a day after he was shot.

Cleveland police did not carry first-aid kits at the time of Rice’s death, a policy that has changed since then.

Officers would also be barred from using chokeholds or force against suspects already handcuffed under the monitoring team’s proposals, and prohibited from putting themselves in harm’s way in a manner that might then require the use of deadly force.

A Cleveland police officer who was in the path of an oncoming vehicle, after a high-speed car chase in 2013, shot the first in a barrage of 137 rounds fired by 13 officers that killed the man and woman in the car.

The proposals from the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team are still subject to public comment this month. If approved by a judge and federal officials, they would take effect sometime early next year, according to Matthew Barge, the oversight consent decree monitor.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Ben Klayman and Tom Brown)

In some cities, police push back against ‘open carry’ gun laws

Steve Thacker with a rifle and a handgun is surrounded by members of the news media in

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tents, ladders, coolers, canned goods, tennis balls and bicycle locks are banned in the area surrounding the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

But guns are fine.

When Ohio Governor John Kasich on Sunday rejected the Cleveland police union’s request to ban the open carrying of firearms near the Quicken Loans Arena, he weighed into a national debate pitting city authorities who contend with gun violence against state lawmakers who answer to gun-loving voters.

Law enforcement leaders in several major cities say municipalities should have to the power to suspend open-carry laws when needed to protect public safety. Currently, 15 of the 45 states that allow openly carried handguns give cities power to restrict those laws, according to a Reuters review of state statutes.

In Cleveland, police union head Steve Loomis said he made the request to protect officers following recent fatal shooting of three police officers in Louisiana on Sunday and the killing of five officers in Dallas on July 7. Kasich said he did not have the power to circumvent the state’s open-carry law.

A decade ago, all Ohio municipalities had the power to regulate how guns could be carried. Now, only the state legislature can do it.

In 2006, the state legislature passed a law denying cities the ability to restrict openly carried weapons, overriding the veto of then-Governor Bob Taft. Cleveland sued the state to try to win back that power, but lost in 2010.

Across the country, similar battles are playing out in states where municipal authorities, often backed by police departments, are clashing with state lawmakers over how to regulate the open carrying of firearms.

Dallas’s police chief drew criticism from gun rights advocates for saying open carriers made it more “challenging” for his officers to respond to a shooter who killed five policemen at a demonstration this month.

The debate occasionally transcends political ideology. Some opposition to open-carry gun laws comes from Republican politicians such as former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who said last year that he was not “fond of this open-carry concept.”

Police in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have been trying and failing to restrict the open carrying of guns for years. The state attorney general argues that citizens have a constitutional right to publicly display weapons, which cannot be overruled by city authorities.

“I wish more of our legislators could see past the ideology,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. “They have no concern about the impact in urban environments that are already plagued by too many guns and too much violence.”

Flynn attracted gun owners’ ire when he told his officers in 2009 to detain open carriers despite the attorney general’s ruling. Flynn said his department has since “adapted” to the state law.


Open-carry advocates say that criminals almost never openly carry firearms. And if law-abiding citizens fail to demonstrate their right to carry guns, they risk losing it, they add.

“We’re sympathetic to law enforcement being concerned about their safety, but that doesn’t mean we give up citizens’ rights just to make it easier to police large events,” said John Pierce, co-founder of national advocacy group OpenCarry.org.

Wisconsin state representative Bob Gannon said he personally is “not a fan” of the practice because it makes people uncomfortable. Still, he said, the right to carry guns in public spaces should be upheld because it is protected by the state constitution.

“The police chief is not an emperor for the state, and he should defer to the state statutes,” he said.

In states where cities can restrict open carry laws, they often have had to defend that right in court.

Colorado passed legislation in 2003 aimed at ensuring a state law on firearms supersedes local ordinances. Denver, the state capital, sued the state to make sure the laws would not affect the city’s longstanding ban on openly carrying firearms.

The city won in 2006 after a 3-3 ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in favor of Denver.

“In some parts of rural Colorado, where there’s a lot of critters, some people really like the idea of open carry,” said Dan Montgomery, chief of police of the Denver suburb of Westminster for 25 years before leaving the force in 2010. “Certainly, even in the law enforcement community we have our arch conservatives who strongly believe in it, but for the vast majority of us, it’s problematic.”

Not all cities agree. After a man carrying a rifle opened fire in a Colorado Springs neighborhood last autumn, killing three bystanders, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said he had “no appetite” for tightening the city’s open-carry laws because he did not think such restrictions would improve public safety. Suthers declined to comment for this article.


Little research has been done on the views of open-carry policies among police officers nationwide or even within states, which each regulate guns differently. But studies by two top police organizations in the past year provide some insight.

In Florida and Texas, where open-carry laws were recently debated in the state legislatures, surveys found that a majority of law enforcement leaders opposed them. Open-carry legislation was defeated in Florida but passed in Texas.

In Florida, open-carry advocates will almost certainly try to legalize it again next session, said Bob Gualtieri, chair of the legislative committee of the Florida Sheriffs’ Association, which represents the state’s 67 sheriffs.

The association took a vote on the issue this year and found three quarters of the 62 responding sheriffs opposed open carry.

A 2015 survey of about one-fifth of the police chiefs in Texas also found that three quarters of respondents opposed open carry, according to the state police chiefs’ association, which ran the survey.

The same year, the state legislature passed a law permitting firearm owners with a concealed-carry license to openly carry handguns.

Gualtieri said the Dallas shooting illustrated the way people who openly carry guns can hinder law enforcement responses to active shooter scenarios. Dallas police said up to 30 people were carrying rifles during a protest on the night that a man opened fire on police officers, complicating law enforcement’s attempts to identify the gunman.

“Not a single one of these people carrying firearms out there in Texas caught this guy in what he was doing,” Gualtieri said. “It drained law enforcement resources and subjected citizens to being unnecessarily taken into custody, and I think we should all be very grateful that nobody else got hurt.”

(Additional reporting by Isma’il Kushkush; Editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

A festival air and unease hang over pre-convention Cleveland

The Quicken Loans Arena is seen as setup continues in advance of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

By Daniel Trotta

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – East 4th Street, emblematic of the new Cleveland as a once-downtrodden area turned trendy, is bristling ahead of the Republican National Convention.

Outdoor diners on the cobblestone restaurant row enjoy a glorious summer afternoon while cable network MSNBC shoots its politically themed shows on the street.

Just ahead of the four-day convention that starts on Monday, a festival of commerce and smiling faces takes place a few steps from the so-called hard zone, delineated by a literal iron curtain that surrounds the sports arena where Donald Trump will be crowned the Republican presidential candidate.

“Ten years ago, this place was a dump. A wasteland,” said John Lusk, 70, a semiretired publisher of a newsletter. “A group of young, hardworking entrepreneurs came in and look what they did.”

The sunny celebration butts uncomfortably against a massive security operation that shows the other side of Cleveland’s big moment. City and U.S. officials are preparing for the worst, aware that tensions over race relations and police use of force, as well as reaction to Trump’s polarizing campaign, could result in violence on the streets.

Clevelanders are also aware of the backdrop for their convention: the mass shooting in Orlando that killed 50 people in June, the sniper attack that killed five Dallas police this month, and the truck assault that killed 84 this week in Nice.

On this same idyllic block just over a year ago, police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators reacting to the acquittal of police officer charged with manslaughter for firing 15 rounds into the car of an unarmed black man and woman, killing them both. More than 70 people were arrested, disturbing the al fresco dining experience on East 4th Street.

Unrest also followed the fatal police shooting in 2014 of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an African-American who had a toy gun, and the officer who shot him was not charged with a crime.

Cleveland, a city of 390,000, has been revitalized in part by billions of dollars in infrastructure spending in recent years, but the black majority still lags behind.

Black Lives Matter, the protest group formed after a series of police killings of African-Americans raised questions about justice in America, held a protest on Saturday in Public Square. It was entirely peaceful, with about 100 activists clapping to speeches.

In between the civic protest and festival atmosphere, there are pockets of emptiness. Street closing and security cordons seem to have scared off customers at the Arcade, a late 1800s shopping mall that has been modernized. The ornate interior, illuminated by a skylight, is full of boutiques like Prosperity, which sells handcrafted art glass jewelry. Business is slow on a Saturday afternoon.

“A lot of people are afraid to come downtown,” said Cat Zurchin, one of the artist/storeowners, from an empty shop. “Some of these stores opened up just for the convention. Retail people have been excited, but we also have some anxiety. The Secret Service is everywhere.”

Black SUVs have invaded the city center as the U.S. Secret Service has taken charge of security. Concrete median barriers and the tall, anti-scaling fence circumscribe the city into impenetrable sectors.

A column of police ride through the city center on bicycles, a dozen more on horseback. Helicopters clatter overhead.

Cleveland police are trying to stay restrained, avoiding the militarized presence that has become common thanks to free war surplus equipment from the Pentagon.

Even so, the city’s courts are preparing to process up to 1,000 arrestees per day, ready to stay open 20 hours a day.

Hospitals are bracing for the worst. The Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest hospitals in the country, will have 50 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel at the convention site and its entire staff on standby.

If needed the hospital can take over an adjoining hotel and conference center, enabling it to handle 1,000 general trauma cases. The hospital is prepared to operate without reinforcements for 96 hours.

“All boots on the ground,” said Dr. Robert Willie, chief of medical operations.

Likewise, the Secret Service says it can handle the spotlight.

“We are prepared,” said Ronald Rowe, the agent in charge of the convention, “and ready to welcome the world to Cleveland.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Kim Palmer)

Cleveland activists wary of city plans to process thousands of arrests

Students Iris Harris and Domonique Dumas with their mentor Kevin Sarran display their Griffin scout robot that will be used by police during a demonstration of police capabilities near the site of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland,

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Police in Cleveland say they aim to avoid mass arrests at the protests planned for next week’s Republican National Convention, but preparations by the city’s courts to process up to 1,000 people a day have some civil rights activists worried.

Thousands of people from across the country are expected in the city to protest the expected presidential nomination of New York businessman Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and restrict immigration from countries with large Muslim populations if elected.

Supporters and opponents of Trump have clashed at several of his campaign events.

Police have vowed to honor protesters’ rights of free expression, which are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and avoid mass arrests.

“We don’t want anybody to trample on anybody else’s rights,” Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams told a news conference on Tuesday.

But memories of recent heavier-handed approaches are fresh in the heavily Democratic, majority black Ohio city of 388,000 people.

“I don’t want to be a naysayer here and rule out the possibility that everything is going to be hunky-dory … but knowing how the Cleveland Police Department has handled situations in the past, I just don’t have confidence that it’s going to work,” said Terry Gilbert, an attorney who has handled criminal and civil rights cases in the city for more than four decades.

“Until I see the actual situation next week, I’m going to be worried,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert pointed to the May 2015 arrests of 71 people following the acquittal of a police officer who fired 137 shots following a high-speed 2012 car chase, killing a black man and woman.

The arrested protesters were held for more than 36 hours over the Memorial Day weekend, and four alleged in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that police intentionally kept them in custody longer to prevent the protest from reforming.


Cleveland paid $250,000 to secure 200 extra rooms in the Cuyahoga County jail, according to the Republican National Committee budget.

Cleveland Municipal Court officials said they would be ready to process a large volume of people quickly, with staff scheduled to work in two 10-hour shifts keeping the court operating from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. each day.

“We are ready,” said Ed Ferenc, a spokesman for the court. “We’ll have staff here till 1 a.m. If we have to do a docket at 10:30 at night, we’ll do it.”

The United States has seen hundreds of protests over the past two years following a series of high-profile police killings of black men. The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful, although they have been punctuated with bursts of rioting, arson and looting.

The ACLU plans to be out in force to ensure that people are not arrested for legal protests, said Christine Link, the group’s executive director in Ohio.

“Let’s not equate a lot of protesters with violence,” Link said. She noted the group would be keeping careful watch on the whereabouts of anyone arrested to ensure they are charged and released quickly.

At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, hundreds of protesters were swept up and pushed into pens on the Hudson River.

With temperatures expected to reach 90 degrees F (32 C) most days, the health of detainees will be a concern, she said.

“What we’re worried about is that they’re not saying where they are booking people, they are being vague about it and that’s not good,” Link said. “That’s an attempt to hide the cheese.”

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Cleveland police keeping low profile for Republican convention

An anti-Trump protester holds his protest sign in front of mounted police outside a rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – As dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters chanted: “No justice, no peace!” in central Cleveland on Monday, they faced down a wall of police – on bicycles, dressed in polo shirts and shorts.

It was the kind of police presence the organizers of next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland have long had in mind – respectful of free speech, and orderly. No arrests were made.

Elsewhere in the United States, tensions are high since last week’s deadly attack on police in Dallas, creating scenes like the one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where police in riot gear confronted a woman standing calmly in a flowing dress, an image captured in a photograph that has attracted worldwide attention.

But in Cleveland, where the four-day Republican convention begins on Monday, police are committed to a low profile, avoiding the militarized presence that has become common in recent years since police across the country received free war surplus equipment from the Pentagon.

The Ohio city is sticking with its plan even after the events in Dallas, where a black U.S. veteran of the Afghan war, who had said he wanted to “kill white people,” fatally shot five police officers on Thursday.

The attack came during an otherwise peaceful protest to denounce last week’s police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Protests have continued in those states, resulting in hundreds of arrests. Cleveland police have said they will increase intelligence and surveillance as a result of the Dallas attacks.

“(Dallas) affects our planning, but we have planned, we have what-iffed and we have table-topped this for a long time,” the police chief, Calvin Williams, told a news conference on Tuesday. “We don’t want anybody to trample on anybody else’s rights.”

Steve Loomis, the head of the Cleveland police officers’ union, said Cleveland may be too lightly equipped. He also complained about a 28-page General Police Order sent to officers a month before the convention, with instructions on de-escalating conflicts and preserving protesters’ rights, calling it condescending and designed to make officers look weak.

“We have no shields because they think it is too offensive,” Loomis said. “But a brick to the head is offensive to me.”


Political conventions are a magnet for protests even under normal circumstances, and Cleveland will have the Trump factor.

Donald Trump, the New York businessman set to receive the Republican presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election, has stirred passions among supporters and opponents during the campaign with his comments on illegal immigrants and Muslims, and the two sides have clashed at several of his campaign events.

Cleveland’s gun laws will allow people to carry guns openly within the so-called event zone where demonstrations will take place. The New Black Panther Party, a “black power” movement, will carry firearms for self-defense during demonstrations in Cleveland, the group’s chairman said.

The city comes into the convention with less hardware than other places. Cleveland never received any war surplus but has bought one armored vehicle and personal protective equipment for officers, a police spokeswoman said. Otherwise, Cleveland has avoided “controlled equipment” such as bayonets and grenade launchers, which the Defense Department has since recalled from many police departments.

But the city is also keeping secret millions of dollars worth of police purchases until after the convention, citing security concerns.


Among the publicly disclosed purchases for the convention to date have been 2,000 new sets of personal protection equipment, colloquially known as riot gear.

The U.S. Secret Service and FBI will run security inside the convention hall, while Cleveland police will handle crowd control outside, aided by 3,000 reinforcements, mostly from elsewhere in Ohio.

Jacqueline Greene, co-coordinator for the National Lawyers Guild, a human rights organization, expressed concern the visiting officers may not share Cleveland’s priorities on protecting free speech.

Cleveland and visiting police will be bound by the General Police Order on managing crowds while protecting free speech and assembly rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The order directs police to “rely on de-escalation and voluntary compliance, and without using force, as the primary means of maintaining order.”

Only the police chief or one of his designated subordinates may approve mass arrests.

“One order is to create space,” Loomis said. “That is retreating. When they (protesters) see we are on our heels, it is a victory for them.”

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney)

New Black Panther Party says to carry arms in Cleveland if legal

Demonstrator and member of New Black Panthers Party

By Ned Parker

(Reuters) – The New Black Panther Party, a “black power” movement, will carry firearms for self-defense during demonstrations in Cleveland ahead of next week’s Republican convention if allowed under Ohio law, the group’s chairman said.

The plan by the group could add to security headaches for the Ohio city after last week’s killing of five police officers in Dallas by a U.S. army veteran who had been drawn to black separatist ideology, including on Facebook, before hatching his plan to target white police officers.

Several other groups, including some supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, have said they will carry weapons in Cleveland, leading to concerns about rival groups being armed in close proximity.

“If it is an open state to carry, we will exercise our second amendment rights because there are other groups threatening to be there that are threatening to do harm to us,” Hashim Nzinga, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, told Reuters in an interview.

“If that state allows us to bear arms, the Panthers and the others who can legally bear arms will bear arms.”

Nzinga condemned the Dallas shootings as a “massacre” and said his group played no role in the attack.

Police in Dallas, where Texas’s “open carry” law allows civilians to carry guns in public, said seeing multiple people carrying rifles led them initially to believe they were under attack by multiple shooters.

Officials in Ohio have said it will be legal for protesters to carry weapons at demonstrations outside the convention under that state’s gun laws.

Eric Pucillo, vice president of Ohio Carry Inc., a non-partisan firearms rights, education and advocacy group, said he supports the rights of others to carry firearms close to the convention site.

“As long as they’re abiding by the law, I see no issue with it,” he said.


Nzinga said he expected “a couple hundred” members of the New Black Panther Party to join a black unity rally that is scheduled to begin on Thursday. Nzinga said he and the Panthers plan to leave Cleveland on Sunday, the day before the convention officially opens.

His group plans to join a “black unity” convention in Cleveland that will hold a series of protest events in the city from this Thursday through at least Sunday.

“We are there to protect… (the black unity) event. We are not trying to do anything else,” he said. “We are going to carry out some of  these great legal rights we have — to assemble, to protest and (to exercise) freedom of speech.”

“Black Power” groups promote defense against racial oppression, with some advocating for the establishment of black social institutions and a self-sufficient economy.

The New Black Panther Party became active in 1990 and has long espoused black separatist ideology. Founding members of the 1960s Black Panther Party have denounced the New Black Panther Party as racist, but Nzinga says his movement does include original Black Panther members.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group watchdog, describes the New Black Panther Party as “a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers.”

But the center said the group has not been found to have actually carried out any violent attacks.

Nzinga complained that his group is regularly demonized. “When we use our rights, the police want to take it away from us and they can’t,” he said. “We protect our community and they make us the villain.”

Law enforcement officials say the New Black Panther Party and other black militant groups have not been implicated in any attacks against police since the 2014 police killing of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. They also say the groups played no roles in last week’s attack in Dallas.

Nzinga says his group has grown amid racial tensions in the wake of a series of police killings of black men in the past two years. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of black militant chapters around the country grew from 113 to 180 in 2015.

The center says there are 892 hate groups total nationwide and at least 998, anti-government “patriot groups.” It says white hate groups, such as the Aryan Brotherhood, have a much longer track record of carrying out violent attacks than black extremist groups.

(Reporting By Ned Parker; additional reporting by Daniel Trotta.; Editing by David Rohde and Stuart Grudgings)