Part two of a three-part series looking at the disturbances of July 1991 and their aftermath in Hanover.

She stood smiling at the podium, scanning the crowd over the anxious murmurs - and suddenly there he was. Right there, amid the fathers and the families, the squirming kids and the community leaders who'd asked her to speak.

The shiny-smooth white head and inked-up arms. A twisting scowl and eyes that glared, unwavering. Staring and still and seething.

In a room with dozens of people, Brent Toomey stood gripping the lectern for balance, locked in a jaw-clenched smile, trying to get out of his gaze. Thinking what he might do to her. Wondering if he'd become violent.


Local residents gathered outside the Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Hanover in July of 1991, after a special service during which local officials
Local residents gathered outside the Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Hanover in July of 1991, after a special service during which local officials called for unity in the borough. Hanover United, a community group started mostly by local ministers at the time, focused on promoting acceptance and tolerance. (THE EVENING SUN FILE)

That was a speech - and a moment - then-YWCA of Hanover director Toomey said she can still remember.

It was during the fallout from what were called race riots in Hanover in 1991. It was a time when community leaders from the borough were asked to speak in dozens of other towns. To share the story of their fight against the racism that reared its head on Center Square for two nights that summer. The hate that later crept in wearing white hoods and screaming mindless slurs.

That speech was in Red Lion, Toomey said, a few months later, and she can still see the skinhead there in the front row, glaring at her with the kind of intolerance that she had just seen slither through downtown Hanover.


The kind of close-mindedness that's blind to sense and mute in its relentlessness.

The kind of hate that scalds.

"And yes," Toomey said, "standing up there that day, I was scared to death."

But Brent Toomey was one of the organizers of a citizens group in Hanover 1,200 strong, and had seen what good people can do when hate rears its head. That's why others called her. And though it's never easy, she said, by then she knew what to do - the only thing to do - when face to face with a person set on exploiting your fear.

She straightened her shoulders, cleared her throat, and stared right back into the glint in that man's dark eyes. And she spoke.

Hanover unites

The Rev. Bruce Bouchard, then the new pastor at Grace United Church of Christ, awoke in Hanover on the morning after a weekend of Center Square disturbances in July of 1991 clear-minded. He made calls to other local ministers and community leaders, he said, and many of them already had the same idea.

Hanover needed to respond, Bouchard said, to show people that the opinions expressed - the slurs that was spewed, the bottles that were shattered during two nights of confrontation downtown - were not representative of the whole.

Hanover United, which officially formed just days after the so-called Hanover riots in July of 1991, was a community group designed to counter the
Hanover United, which officially formed just days after the so-called Hanover riots in July of 1991, was a community group designed to counter the negativity in the borough at that time. Posters like this one were placed all around Hanover, and eventually more than 1,000 residents signed a pledge promoting tolerance. (THE EVENING SUN FILE)

There was no doubt after hundreds gathered and black men were chased off Center Square that the community had a problem, he said. But still, the vast majority of Hanoverians were interested in nonviolence and acceptance, and that statement needed to be made.

"It was going to be a war of ideas," Bouchard said recently.

And Hanover needed to unite.

"Hanover United" was the group formed by Bouchard - along with Charles Keller, then pastor of the First United Methodist Church, YWCA director Toomey and others - to help make that statement.

"First we had to admit that Hanover obviously had some issues with racism, and then we had to do something about it," Bouchard said. "And the community spirit and support were both amazing. It was like driving down the highway and all the lights are green."

Hanover United took out an ad in The Evening Sun, asking residents to sign and send in a pledge denouncing racism. Four days later, the group had 200-plus signed pledges. Eventually, 1.200 people signed.

The group met regularly, daily even, in the wake of the riots, designing everything from those little ribbons that people started pinning to their lapels, to meetings where the community could come and express both their hopes and frustrations. Slowly, the talking took, Bouchard said, though race was clearly a tough topic for many.

Regardless, it was a way for those sickened by the events on the square to rally and talk to each other, Bouchard said. It was a way to stand together with people of a common mind, people who wanted Hanover's message to be one of tolerance, not intimidation.

Soon other groups cropped up as well, including a youth group and a support group for interracial couples that began meeting at the YWCA of Hanover.

Toomey said those groups, like Hanover United itself, were slow to gain appeal with the relatively few minority residents in the area. There was a trust level that had to be reached, she said, and people had to believe there were white Hanoverians who wanted them here.

"A lot of us were afraid, and a lot of us had to first look at our own thoughts and attitudes toward race," she said. "But people needed a place to talk, groups where they could feel comfortable, and in the end there was a lot of personal growth from a lot of people, including myself."

Still, for the all the initial response, by September that youth group had folded, with its founder gone off back to school. And even Hanover United was down to meeting once a month instead of daily or once a week, its urgency dropping with the temperature both on the thermometer and on the streets of Hanover.

Its point perhaps made.

"Things were very serious around here and this wasn't just spin at the time," Toomey said. "I think we really made a difference in how people thought."

A visit from the Klan

Rumors about the Ku Klux Klan coming to town had swirled around Hanover since the civil disturbances themselves, with claims the Klan would sweep through and "clean up the problem" of racial mixing. The reality of the legal system and bureaucracy were not quite as dramatic, though, with a request by the Klan sent to Hanover, and borough officials for weeks looking at ways to keep the group out.

Eventually, though - on Saturday Nov. 2, 1991 - 60-plus members of the White Unity Party of the United Klans of America stepped down off of school buses and onto Moul Avenue. The march took less than 20 minutes, and most of those who participated refused to give their names or talk to the press.

At the end of the event, though, group leader Albert P. Lentz of York Haven did address the crowd, speaking about the American flag he said borough officials would not allow him to carry, and about the right to free speech he said is so often denied to the Klan. Such censorship prevents members from being able to effectively articulate their point of view, he said.

"Gas a Jew for Jesus!" someone in his group screamed.

Media accounts of the day put attendance at about 300 people, a larger crowd than borough officials had hoped would come, but according to Toomey many of those were people more interested in the novelty than the message.

And Toomey and the rest of Hanover United were among those who, in the weeks leading up to the Klan rally, were back on the front line of the fight in Hanover, organizing a prayer vigil the night before the rally. More than 100 people came out to the First Methodist church for an evening of reflection, lit by flickering candles.

"Hanover has been challenged to prove what type of community we are, what type of people we are," said Mayor W. Roy Attlesberger, the man who instituted a curfew that would last months. "Hanover has responded, and responded well."

And on the following day, with hooded men on Moul Avenue yelling about blacks - and Jews and communists and homosexuals - Hanover United sponsored an open house and children's fest at the local YMCA. About 40 people attended, and instead of hate there were only smiles and small talk, Bouchard said, and the laughing of children.

After the Klan rally, Hanover United once more slowly faded into the background, continuing to meet, Bouchard said, but more infrequently and eventually only when an incident roused community leaders once more to action.

There were meetings the following year in 1992, as organizers helped officials across the county form York United, in response to similar unrest, and Hanover leaders like Toomey "took the show on the road," she said, to many other areas to help with organizing.

And likely, Bouchard said, that same core group of people - and plenty of new ones - would do the same thing again today, if they had to.

"People have a lot of prejudices, we come equipped with that," he said. "But Hanover is not a racist town. The good people just had to stand up."

Policing the police

Still, questions lingered after the riots. Both about what happened, and specifically how the local authorities handled the largely surprising situation.

And at the urging of the Pennsylvania Black Legislative Caucus, the state was quick to investigate local police, with Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Glenn Walp calling for a state police inquiry into "every aspect" of the incident.

According to state police, that report - which would eventually take about eight months and 1,400 man hours to compile - was meant to determine several things, including whether any "outside influences" brought on the riots and whether any criminal violations occurred.

The report was never released to the borough or to the media. Walp, though, did read a 15-page summary of the findings at a news conference in the spring of 1992.

And the 330-plus page report did not favor Hanover or its police.

First, the state police report said even with rumors of a possible foray into town by the biker group swirling by mid-week, "there was no action by Hanover City officials or the Hanover Police Department to defuse the impending situation," before the weekend.

And by ignoring apparent crimes committed by whites on the street during the melee, officers demonstrated what could be considered "racist/discriminatory attitudes," Walp said. There were 36 arrests from the racially mixed group, according to the report, and only six from the crowd. No bikers were arrested.

State police also pointed to one July 14 incident around a car in the parking lot near St. Matthew Lutheran Church as a questionable application of force. During that confrontation an unruly crowd surrounded a car with two black men inside, broke a car window and tried to tip the vehicle - only to have police come and then arrest the black men inside.

At another point, a local police officer used a racial slur when telling the racially mixed group to move, according to Walp's report.

The Evening Sun recently requested a copy of the original report through the Freedom of Information Act, and was initially told it was an "investigation," and the whole report not available to the public. During a follow-up call, however, the state police Right-to-Know office was unable to locate the original report in its records. That search - and fulfillment of the newspaper's request - continues today, according to an officer with that department.

Hanover Police Chief Randy Whitson spoke of the report while interviewed for this story, acknowledging that, in retrospect, there are things police should have done differently.

They should have been more proactive, said Whitson, who was a sergeant at the time and was there on the streets for the riots. And they should have been better prepared, with riot gear and mutual-aid calls.

But since that time the department has learned better ways of addressing such a problem, he said, if it would ever arise again.

And Whitson urged the skeptical to think about just what really happened out there over those two nights, and the final damage tally. Basically one black eye and one broken window, he said, and some glass on the street. That's it.

With hundreds of people and a handful of police and - unfortunately - the memory today of things like Selma, Ala., and even York in the 1960s, Hanover's disturbance hardly warrants the name "riot" and all its requisite baggage, Whitson said.

"I guess we could have called the fire trucks, turned the hoses on them, got dogs and turned them loose," he said. "But I'm proud we didn't overreact, because if we did, I think you would have seen things could have gotten a lot worse out there."

It's easy to look from the outside in - like many of the state police officers that "sat drinking coffee at Cross Keys" while events worsened, Whitson said - but those at the scene who saw the events know it was handled as well as possible.

"People look back today and say, 'Why not just arrest them all,'" Whitson said. "Well, that wasn't possible. But what we did do out there was deal with the situation the best we could with the resources we had in place."

The court costs

The people involved in those two summer nights of turmoil inevitably found themselves a part of the legal system as well. And various court battles languished on months after the disturbances downtown.

In all, 51 people were charged during the two nights' scuffle on the square, with most of those facing relatively minor charges like disorderly conduct. Initially, a number of those defendants had their charges thrown out by District Justice Mervin L. Dubs early in the fall.

Of those Dubs did hold over for trial, six went on to be found guilty in York County court the following year. That group, which came to be known as the "Hanover Six," eventually requested a new trial with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, citing the state police report as a crucial piece of evidence initially lacking.

Having first been found guilty of disorderly conduct and fined $100 each, the Hanover Six were later vindicated, as those charges were overturned by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Eventually the charges filed against all 51 riot participants were dropped.

The ACLU also rallied to the cause of 17 alleged victims of racial violence during the riots, all of who said there was a double standard for blacks and whites throughout the judicial system in York County. The ACLU filed suit in May of 1992 against York County, Police Chief Gerald Lippy, some of the white bikers and the borough of Hanover.

Those plaintiffs eventually settled with the bikers, and with York County, which agreed to make $500 payments to at least five of the victims. Two other plaintiffs settled out of court with the borough while five additional plaintiffs dropped out of the suit or were removed.

The civil action finally came to a head in 1994, with borough officials summoned to Harrisburg to defend their actions. After a weeklong federal trial in Harrisburg, a jury ruled against the plaintiffs. And local officials said they were vindicated.

"We won," Whitson said. "But there was still a lot of embarrassment here, because of the process."

Keep talking

But is that the whole story? The burst of slurs followed by feel-good slogans? The Klan rebuke and the positive words and the "let's move on already" mentality?

Not for some, who say the heart of the story was and remains what was found there under the everyday veil of downtown, when it was ripped away for two heated nights. The point, they say, is to remember exactly what people who live here did on those two nights. What they chose to do.

"The thing is, they chose sides, for that one weekend," said Ann van Dyke, an investigator with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission who came to Hanover after the riots, and who still works for that organization today. "That's what makes Hanover different from almost all the rest. It wasn't just the group on the motorcycles and the (racially mixed) group involved out there."

Van Dyke said there were plenty of positive lessons to come out of Hanover, even some she still uses today based on how organizations like Hanover United responded.

But in 30-plus years addressing such incidents in Pennsylvania, she said, a handful of them stick in her mind, and for different reasons. In Hanover, she said, what she remembers after interviews and investigations and hours of work here is mostly that initial citizens' response. What the people of Hanover did on that summer weekend, when given a choice.

"Everyday people came out of stores and homes and lined up there on the street - with the bikers - shouting the same things, taking up the call," she said. "They chose their side clearly, there on the square.

"And that's very disturbing."

So what to do about it? Then, or 20 years later today?

"Talk," she said. "Don't let people off the hook here. And keep talking."

Coming Sunday: Is racism behind us?; 717-637-3736, ext. 183