Bill the Klan!
Make the sheetheads pay for having soiled our civic laundry.
by Bruce VanWyngarden
hen 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
So whos 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 cant
take the high road when youre dealing with low-lifes. Many people
are simply too outraged by the Klans 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 weeks 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
Saturdays 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. Its
worked elsewhere; why not here?
And for good measure, heres another idea to ensure that these
morons dont come rushing back to our fair city. Lets 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 its illegal. Thats okay.
Let em sue. I know a couple of Memphis judges who would just
love to take the case. n
(Bruce VanWyngarden is an associate publisher of Contemporary
Media, the Flyers parent company.)
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