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Under Huge Police Presence, Memphis Uneasily Faces the Klan

By Don Terry on March 31, 2013 - 10:57 am, Posted in Klan

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — “Here they come,” someone shouted, standing in the rain in the fenced-in and heavily guarded protest area set up here more than 100 yards from where the Ku Klux Klan was beginning its controversial rally Saturday on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.

“I can’t see them,” someone else said, climbing on his tiptoes. “They’re too many cops in the way.”

The police presence was indeed overwhelming and the rain steady as the Klan arrived at the courthouse steps at 2:15, about 45 minutes late on the day before Easter. But from the city-designated protest area it was impossible to hear them and nearly impossible to see them except for the tops of their pointy white hoods.

As soon as they arrived, the multiracial crowd of about 400 anti-Klan demonstrators and onlookers — who were kept in the Best Park parking lot, behind a 6-foot high fence and a phalanx of police officers on foot and horseback — began chanting, “KKK out of Memphis.”

Then a man with a voice as deep as the nearby Mississippi River stepped to the fence and shouted to the Klansmen, “Ku Klux-cowards go to hell.”

All told, according to local media reports, almost 1,300 people passed through the police security checkpoint to protest. But because of the rain many people did not stay long and the number of those inside the protest area at any one time was never more than a few hundred.

Yet they outnumbered the Klansmen by 20 to one. Officials said 61 white supremacists showed up for the rally to protest the city’s decision in early February to rename three Confederate-themed parks, including one honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest (now Health Sciences Park), the wealthy slave trader and ruthless Rebel cavalry officer who later became the first national leader of the KKK. (The others were Confederate Park, now Memphis Park, and Jefferson Davis Park, now Mississippi River Park.) When North Carolina-based Klan leaders first announced the rally a few days after the parks were renamed, they said they would be bringing “thousands of Klansmen’’ to Memphis for “one of the biggest KKK rallies of all time.”

The threat was like a bad flashback for city officials. In 1998, the last time the Klan rallied here, the streets were filled with tear gas and the sound of broken windows as hundreds of anti-Klan demonstrators clashed with police. There were about 25 arrests.

History did not repeat itself Saturday. The Klan was brought in and out of the rally site on city buses, escorted by police. According to media reports, there was one arrest and police “removed” a few people from the protest area, including a teenage boy with a Confederate flag draped over his shoulder. In 1998, there were more than 1,200 anti-Klan demonstrators and onlookers on hand. This time, it appears many potential protesters were drawn away from downtown to a counter-event hastily organized by business leaders and city officials called Heart of Memphis, an all-day gathering held at the fairground with food, music and panels on improving race relations in the city of more than 600,000.

The presence of heavily armed police also played a huge role. “It’s intimidating,’’ admitted JoNina Ervin, an organizer of an anti-Klan protest that drew people from Alabama, Florida and Ohio. “If you protest too loudly, they’ll shoot you. That’s the message they’re sending with all these assault weapons.”

Downtown Memphis did look like an armed camp. Early Saturday morning, streets around the Shelby County Courthouse were already cordoned off with yellow police tape, armored personnel carriers and police cars, their blues lights flashing in a light drizzle that got stronger and stronger as the day went on.

Knots of police officers and sheriff’s deputies outfitted in black from head to toe pulled out protective chest protector body armor from black SUVs and piled heavy-duty zip lock plastic handcuffs on the hoods. The officers were armed with riot guns and semi-automatic rifles. Many carried plastic shields.

The sound of barking police dogs drifted over Main Street.

Still, about 85 anti-Klan demonstrators gathered under a gazebo in a city park a few blocks from the courthouse to get out of the rain and to discuss strategy before the Klan arrived.

Justin Sledge, who helped organize the protest, said he had walked around downtown and saw how heavily armed the police were. He advocated the group not do anything to provoke them.

“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I haven’t lynched anyone. The Klan causes the trouble. Not us.”

Several people, including Jerry Bellow, a member of Anti-Racist Action for 20 years who drove to Memphis from Ohio, said he did not think it wise to go into the fenced in protest area. “I’ve been to about 500 of these,” Bellow said. “Back in the ’90s, the Klan would send into the protest pen bikers they were friendly with and they start trouble. I’ll give it to them, they could take a punch. But we were the ones who got arrested. It’s a trap.”

As the group was peacefully discussing what to do, half a dozen police officers, dressed in riot gear, marched across the street and up the steps of the gazebo.

“You don’t have a permit,” a lieutenant said. “There are too many of you. You’ll have to leave.”

“But we’re standing in a public park,” someone said. “We’re not doing anything.”

“You’ll have to leave,” she repeated.

The other officers moved in and the protesters moved out, filing past a handwritten sign that read, “The Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”

Meanwhile, the Klan arrived late and left about 40 minutes early. Soon after they were gone, the rain stopped.

  • Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

    I neglected to add that in 2005, after the 100th anniversary of the Forrest Park, and after numerous white supremacists had come with a racist demonstration, over 750 primarily Black protesters gathered in the park and took it over, led by a judge and a Shelby County Commissioner, along with Al Sharpton, hoping to get national attention with his presence. They demanded that the racist park be closed, and the statue containing the body of N.B. Forrest be returned to his family. The then Mayor “Uncle Willie” Herenton however dismissed and mocked them, and sided with the Klan. However, the pressure was so great that he decided to remove it from downtown to a less travelled area in Midtown Memphis, where it is now located. This just shows you how protective the city government, even a Black administration is of the Confederate parks,and continues to kowtow to the Klan and expend city funds for the upkeep and display of so vile a racist symbol.

  • Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

    I was one of the organizers of the March 30, 2013 anti-Klan event. Although the local Memphis and much of the national press focused on the paucity of the Klan turnout and the large police press, the real story is how many people came from Memphis (1,300) and cities in the Midwest and other Southern cities. The fact that they came and stood out in the rain was what stands out, and should be a referendum on the backward policies of the Memphis city government in continuing to finance these racist Confederate parks. This is not the first time protests have taken place in 1998, there was a so-called “anti-Klan riot”, though what actually happened was that the Mayor at the time sicced the police on protesters, gasing and beating them in the streets. So the so-called was a deliberate police provocation. This time the cops created a “Klan safety zone” where they sectioned off 10-12 square blocks, and assembled a police army of 500 “riot cops”, SWAT team snipers, helicopters, arored personnel carriers, and other heavily armed forces to repel a perceived riotous faction.

    The protesters stood for hours in the rain, and if there was no inclement weather, there might have been as many as 5,000 people at the protest. The mayor and chamber of commerce, and so-called civi rights laeders kept up a constant refrain on news reports, advertisements, and PSA’s telling people to stay out of the downtown area. Well, it did not work, and people were not intimidated by the cops or the Klan. Instead they were incensed!

    What’s next is we want the racist parks closed down in Memphis, that the 35-foot statute containing the grave of N.B. Forrest, Klan leader, be removed and his body and that of his wife be returned to his family, and that park be named after Ida B. Wells, 19th century feminist, radical journalist, anti-racist, civil right leader, and anti-lynching advocate. Memphis is a majority Black city, and we should not have to tolerate this racist outrage anymore. We know that this will take struggle, and one thing we plan on doing is to begin an international campaign to wage a tourist and consumer boycott to make the city lose money which is the only thing they do understand.

  • aadila

    I take everything back. “Steve’s” comment is a good example of “police bashing”.

  • Aron

    Right. And the ensuing fracas should they be allowed to gather without supervision is DEFINITELY worthwhile.

    Get a life, Steve.

  • aadila

    “To those on this thread who bash the police, shame on you. They put their lives on the line every single day to serve and protect our community!”

    I haven’t seen anyone do that here. Though I agree police work is a difficult job and one that deserves respect, not every police officer is worthy of respect nor do they all “serve and protect”; many commit abuses, many engage in crimes, and many are shielded by a system which allows the the powerful presumption of propriety to continue wrongful acts.

    This is not a condemnation of the police; this is a cautionary view that the police need to be policed and punished when abuses are committed, just like everyone else. Unfortunately, that does not happen consistently. Quite often cronyism and wrist slapping takes the place of justice when complaints are filed. Desk duty for a week is not adquate punishment for wrongful search and seizure or excessive force, for example. They should be fired and be held personally liable.

    There is also a common perception that more and more police are going to solve crime. Again, this is not the fault of the police, but it is the fault of society which tries to engage with the causes of crime by dealing with its effects. America has the highest documented incarcerated population anywhere in the world, and crime does not seem to be going away. Obviously our country needs something other than more police and prisons if we wish to truly address criminality. The status quo and old ideas aren’t working.

    Forgive the off topic observations, but I am not so naive as to believe a uniform and badge alone makes someone a beneficial member of society. Blind devotion to the police simply leads to blind avoidance of the problems with our police.

    This may not be a popular comment but then again, truth rarely is.

  • Steve

    Why is it that the cops feel the need to harass people for a living. They really are government sanctioned thugs. This is still America. The KKK has a constitutional right to assemble under the first amendment. The is a huge waste of tax payer money.

  • concernedcitizen

    I think we need to ditch any rhetoric that addresses these monsters as cute, while these comments are mostly done in poking fun there are many of these people who are violent and their activities cause harm and put many in the way of danger.

    If we don’t have a strong show of law and enforcement for these monsters to disrupt and disband them we will find our communities infested with them and that isn’t a place most people would want to live in.

  • concernedcitizen

    “I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I haven’t lynched anyone. The Klan causes the trouble. Not us.”

    This is very true and that is the very reason why they are homegrown terrorists.

  • Cheryl Simon

    I so wish these cretins would just disappear. My nephew is a Memphis police officer who worked this tea party – sorry, KKK – rally. He was NOT looking forward to these idiots being here. But, he said the whole thing was relatively peaceful. I was very concerned about him and his fellow officers. To those on this thread who bash the police, shame on you. They put their lives on the line every single day to serve and protect our community!

  • Roger B.

    All I can say is “run Forrest run” but I guess that wouldn’t be completely fair because they would get their long white skirts all tangled up between their legs and might fall and hurt themselves and we sure wouldn’t want that.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    That’s a pretty big site, Proud. Maybe you could post some specific links?

  • Proud to Be American

    I want to say how much we all appreciate your organizations exposing these hate groups.

    Here is one that should be included in your data base if you do not already have them. They are two fired former left wing, anti-government people who started a fake news blog site. by Karen Velie and Dan Blackburn who have printed on line so much hate, false blogs and attack police, government officials, Jewish, Christian and Muslin run programs for the poor and needy. They hire private investigators to locate those who do not agree with there blog site.

  • SinghX

    I too find it interesting that the Klan could not muster up more than 100 card-carrying members to protest such an
    “egregious” act of removing their heroes from the public eye.

    Maybe their “cells” couldn’t reach one another on their “cells” in a timely fashion….must be hard to text “flash rally” with all that fabric whisking around your arms and wrist…
    bless their little hearts (?)…

  • Miss Maccabee

    Le sigh! It’s springtime and the KOOKs (Keepers of Odd Knowledge) are coming out of the woodwork.

    I hate to admit this but I was briefly involved an NSM idiot in the past who pretended to be intelligent & not angry at Jews because his life sucks (long story I may tell sometime). Ew gross. They will tell you ANYTHING to get your support. Let me know when someone invents the “Life Rewind Button!” But you live and learn – and boy I did learn quite a few things about how they plan events and what the goals of these events are!

    The best thing to do with WN rallies is to not provide coverage of their events. Have a counter-rally. Send someone with a camera to film it – ONE reporter to take pictures and then later write about how lame they are. NO opposition should show up. They consider it to be a success when they get media coverage and 100 antis yelling at screaming at them. The conflict and adrenaline rush is what the members want. (And when a leftist gets arrested or a person of color makes rude gestures and curses, it merely proves their point and is VERY counter productive. STOP doing that!! And what’s with the crotch grabbing?? Really folks, be productive!)

    However, the real reason for the event is so that the leadership can get free press and then get a few more idiots to pay dues and buy useless crap from their ecommerce sites. WN is really a business where the “leaders” live off of the funds and the membership never sees a balance sheet or an expense report.

    Also, many of these people are extremely brilliant but have equally low self esteem… which is why they blame Jews etc for everything. It sucks to be them… perhaps in addition to that one reporter at rallies there should be a psychologist to hand out a Prozac Rx to everyone! (or perhaps arsenic pills)

  • Valhalla

    61 people? Too bad they could not fit 5 more into the pick-up; at least then they could claim to have reached the mystical number of “66”…Well according to racist numerology “61” translates to “HA”, sounds right, Ha, Ha!

  • Erika

    i prefer to think that the rain came precisely because the Klueless Klan Kreeps decided to march – although if that was the csae, the Grand Lizard or Exhausted Cylcops or whatever ludicriously grandiose title they are using this week probably would have be struck by lightening.

  • Georgia Citizen

    The KKK should have picked a better to march to get their message across. No one can hear them in the rain.

  • Georgia Citizen

    The KKK picked a bad time to march since it was raining. No too smart guys.

  • Scott Shepherd

    Sorry I missed you Don but I knew the cone heads could not muster up more that 100 folks and it looks like it was way less than that!

  • Maureen Masonbrink

    I think the fact that the Klan made an appearance in this day & time is disgusting. I like to think I am nonjudgmental but having to hide behind a sheet to give your beliefs show exactly how honorable they are!

  • Reynardine

    Flash! Brock and Erika eloped! (Note what day this is)

    (Sorry, Erika)

  • Erika

    Anyone who is looking for proof of the existance of a just and merciful God should direct their attention to teh last sentence above :)

  • Reynardine

    Here they come
    White as snow
    Ringing in their skulls
    Their brains in their toes

    (My apologies to the Bell of Belfast City)