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The Teenager Who Saved A Man With An SS Tattoo

In 1996, a stirring incident unfolded as a black teenager bravely shielded a white man from an enraged mob, mistaken in their belief that he supported the racist Ku Klux Klan. This act of remarkable courage and empathy continues to inspire people today.

Keshia Thomas, then 18 years old, found herself in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, during a Ku Klux Klan rally. Ann Arbor, renowned for its liberal ideals, progressive values, and diverse community, was an unlikely choice for the KKK to hold their rally. Consequently, hundreds gathered to voice their opposition to the group's message.

Despite the tense atmosphere, the situation remained under control. Police, outfitted in riot gear and armed with tear gas, formed a barrier to protect a small group of Klansmen dressed in white robes and hoods. Meanwhile, Thomas stood among a cohort of anti-KKK demonstrators on the opposite side of a barrier erected for the occasion.

"There's a Klansman in the crowd."

Then a woman with a megaphone shouted, "There's a Klansman in the crowd."

They turned around to see a white, middle-aged man wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt. He tried to walk away from them, but the protesters, including Thomas, followed, "just to chase him out".

It remained uncertain whether the man was a Ku Klux Klan supporter, but to the anti-KKK protesters, his attire and tattoos epitomised everything they stood against. For them, the Confederate flag he displayed symbolised hatred and racism, while the SS tattoo on his arm suggested allegiance to white supremacy, or even more alarming ideologies.

There were shouts of "Kill the Nazi" and the man began to run - but he was knocked to the ground. A group surrounded him, kicking him and hitting him with the wooden sticks of their placards.

Mob mentality had taken over. "It became barbaric," says Thomas.

"When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, 'This isn't right.'"

So the teenager, then still at high school, threw herself on top of a man she did not know and shielded him from the blows.

"When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down."

To Mark Brunner, a student photographer who witnessed the incident, what made Thomas' actions truly remarkable was the person she chose to save.

"She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her," he says. "Who does that in this world?"

So what gave Thomas the impetus to help a man whose views it appeared were so different from her own? Her religious beliefs played a part. But her own experience of violence was a factor, too.

"I knew what it was like to be hurt," she says. "The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me."

The circumstances - which she does not want to describe - were different.

"But violence is violence - nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea."

Thomas has never heard from the man she saved, but she did once meet a member of his family. Months later, someone came up to her in a coffee shop and said thanks. "What for?" she asked. "That was my dad," the young man replied.

Thomas believed that the presence of the man's son added even more weight to her actions; by intervening, she may have averted the possibility of additional violence.

"For the most part, people who hurt... they come from hurt. It is a cycle. Let's say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?"



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