Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Nov. 6, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Native leader arrested during World Series protest

By Martha Grevatt

For three consecutive days, Native activists and their supporters picketed the World Series here. They were protesting the racist use of the team name "Cleveland Indians" and the derogatory mascot "Chief Wahoo." On the third day Vernon Bellecourt, Juanita Helphrey and Juan Reyna were arrested.

Bellecourt, a national representative of the American Indian Movement and leader of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, was arrested outside the Cleveland stadium while "Chief Wahoo" burned in effigy. After Bellecourt’s arrest, the angry protesters marched to a more visible place. They were met by a huge group of police, who threatened them with arrest if they did not return to the designated protest area.

Of those who refused to move, Juanita Helphrey, a representative of the United Church of Christ and Secretary/Treasurer of NCRSM, and Juan Reyna, leader of the Cleveland Committee of 500 Years, were arrested. At first they were charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The next day in court the charges were increased to include aggravated disorderly conduct.

Bellecourt, who suffered an angina attack while in prison and was hospitalized only after his cellmates shouted repeatedly for medical attention, explained the effigy burning: "That racist symbol of the Cleveland team represents the fact that racism is institutionalized and ingrained in America’s favorite pastime, baseball. We burned an effigy of ‘Chief Wahoo’ to break through the media white-out and to express our First Amendment rights to free speech."

"This is discrimination," Reyna told Workers World. "They tell us we cannot be here because it is private property, yet they allow thousands of fans to degrade Indigenous people on their private property. We want to know how they can take taxpayers’ money and turn it into private property."

NCRSM, AIM, the Committee of 500 Years, and UCC intend to file a joint lawsuit charging violation of their First Amendment rights. A legal defense fund has been set up to defend Bellecourt, Reyna and Helphrey, and supporters plan to pack the courtroom at their hearing on Nov. 5.

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