WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The controversy swirling around a monument on Public Square heated up Friday. Eyewitness News was there as a local political activist was arrested while trying to remove a marker purchased by an alleged hate group.
Political activist Gene Stilp was taken away in handcuffs by police as he climbed a ladder and attempted to remove a brick purchased by a hate group on the Beehive Monument in downtown Wilkes-Barre. A crowd booed as police stepped in to remove Stilp as he attempted to use a hammer and chisel.
Police stopped him again during a second attempt, this time as he tried to paint to over East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire’s brick. The debate among many watching: what is right and what are a person’s rights?
“I think the community should rally behind him. He is a hero, whoever’s going to take it down,” Matt Eggler of Berwick said.
“It shouldn’t have been put up there in the first place. Now that it is there, taking it down is a violation of someone’s civil rights,” Bill Browne of Wilkes-Barre said.
This is the latest attempt to encourage Wilkes-Barre city officials to remove the brick purchased by East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire, a group with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
Eyewitness News reported about the controversial brick earlier this week after it was brought to the attention of City Hall. It is placed on the four-sided monument on the same side as one sponsored by the Wilkes-Barre NAACP.
The Texas group purchased the brick from the city for $35. Before Stilp grabbed his hammer and chisel, he tried to present his case and have the city administrator take down the marker.
“Sometimes officials make mistakes and in this case, the city of Wilkes-Barre has made a mistake,” Stilp said.
“If you think the city of Wilkes-Barre has made a mistake then you are saying the United States has made a mistake by allowing this through the first amendment rights,” city administrator Rick Gazenski said.
Following the exchange, Stilp offered to purchase the brick but was denied after he was told it was already owned by the group. That’s when Stilp tried taking matters into his own hands that ended with him in handcuffs.
Stilp was released from police custody Friday afternoon and charges are pending.