Viewpoint

Bill the Klan!

Make the sheetheads pay for having soiled our civic laundry.

by Bruce VanWyngarden

When the Ku Klux Klan looks back on 1998, they will surely count their January trip to Memphis as one of their greatest triumphs. The Klan “won” in every conceivable manner. They came to town, spewed their tired, racist rhetoric, incited a mini-riot, got back on their buses, and presumably laughed all the way home to Indiana. The city spent tens of thousands of our tax dollars coping with these Sheets-for-Brains, first protecting them and then cleaning up the mess they left behind. Plain and simple, the Klan made Memphis look foolish – its leaders, its media, its police, and its citizens.
So who’s to blame? All of the above.
How do we avoid it happening again? More about that later.
Many local leaders took the high road initially. They urged citizens to ignore the Klan. “Listening to them gives them credibility,” said Johnnie Turner, executive secretary of the NAACP. In an ideal world, that would have been a terrific strategy, one that would have left the Klan preaching to an empty street. But you can’t take the high road when you’re dealing with low-lifes. Many people are simply too outraged by the Klan’s garbage; they feel a need to take action.
That need to take action was also exacerbated by most of the local media. Television stations ran promos about their upcoming coverage of the Klan rally all week, complete with exciting shots of protesters shaking down a chain-link fence to get at the pointy-headed bastards. The Flyer ran a commentary in this space urging people to speak out against the Klan. By week’s end everyone, including the police and our political leaders, was expecting a crowd downtown on Saturday.
That crowd turned out to be a disorganized group of ordinary families, non-violent pseudo-Gandhians, anarchists, curiosity-seekers, journalists, and gang members. There was no focal point, no real leadership, no agenda, so this disparate bunch mostly milled around and shouted at the police.
The police, without apparent warning, got nervous and began using their nifty leaf-blower tear-gas weapons on the unsuspecting assemblage. Though no one was seriously hurt, their actions merely served to give the trouble-making elements of the crowd an excuse to do their window-breaking mischief.
What should we have done differently? Hindsight is 20-20, but Saturday’s events could have been avoided with a bit of planning. In other cities – most recently Pittsburgh – religious and community leaders and politicians have put together organized counter-rallies when the Klan came to town. A positive focal point is thus created for those who wish to protest. The mayor speaks, ministers pray, a gospel choir sings songs of brotherhood. Everybody feels better and conflict is avoided. The Klan goes away disappointed. It’s worked elsewhere; why not here?
And for good measure, here’s another idea to ensure that these morons don’t come rushing back to our fair city. Let’s send a bill to the Ku Klux Klan for all costs incurred by the city during their rally. The extra police salaries, tear-gas canisters, clean-up crews, etc. should add up to a tidy five-figure sum. Inform the Sheetheads that until the bill is paid they will not be allowed to demonstrate in Memphis again. After they find someone to read it to them, they may complain that it’s illegal. That’s okay. Let ’em sue. I know a couple of Memphis judges who would just love to take the case.
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(Bruce VanWyngarden is an associate publisher of Contemporary Media, the Flyer’s parent company.)


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