High court refuses to hear Chief Wahoo protesters' appeal

By CONNIE MABIN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal from five people arrested for burning an effigy of a Cleveland Indians logo that critics view as racist.

The protesters' lawyers asked the high court to hear an appeal of a December ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that authorities did not violate the free speech rights of the five when they were arrested on Opening Day 1998 for torching a 3-foot effigy of Chief Wahoo outside the Indians' stadium.

The protesters said the demonstration was legitimate free speech, and compared it to constitutionally protected flag-burning.

But the Ohio court ruled that the arrests were justified because the fire threatened the public's safety, even though the burning of the effigy by itself was constitutionally protected free speech.

U.S. Supreme Court justices refused the case without comment.

The city's law department referred calls Monday to the mayor's press office, which did not immediately have a comment.

A message seeking comment was left with the Cleveland Indians.

Protester Vernon Bellecourt said he was disappointed with the decision but that he will continue to try to get the team to drop the logo -- a cartoonish red face with a big smile and red feather on its head. American Indians say the feather belittles the Indian symbol of a heroic warrior.

"We were out there at the opener, and we'll just have to accelerate our efforts against Cleveland," he said. "It seems like the Supreme Court is sliding back into history instead of going forward into the new millennium."

Bellecourt, a leader in the American Indian Movement in Minneapolis and president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, said the protesters might sue the city over the arrests.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)