Sunday, January 23, 2000

Shedding light but not heat on KKK rally

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Klansman on Fountain Square Saturday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        When you turn on the lights, cockroaches scatter. If you don't turn on the lights, they are still there. Often very busy. Doing unspeakable things, including making more cockroaches.

        That is why I was standing on Fountain Square Saturday, collecting mean little pellets of snow on my shoulders in bitter 23-degree wet.

        It began with a phone call from a reader who asked why “you people in the media” give so much attention to the Ku Klux Klan. Polite, but sincerely ticked off, she said we should not have publicized the Klan crosses on the square at Christmastime. And “now there's a big story about a rally for probably 20 people.”

        I thought she deserved an answer.

Fizzled rallies
        Really, I would rather have been doing almost anything else. And it's not as if I thought there would be any big news. Klan rallies have fizzled lately.

        “They're not here,” Jeffrey Berry, the Klan's imperial wizard, said in New York last October when only about a dozen of his Klansmen straggled in for a rally, “because there's people out there who because they belong to this organization would discriminate against them.”

        He actually said this.

        The Klan leader further shocked listeners when he asked plaintively, “It's the '90s. Like Rodney King says, "Why can't we all just get along?'” This is the same man who a year earlier spoke in Jasper, Texas, shortly after a black man was dragged to death by men who said they wanted to start their own Klan.

        The imperial wizard took this opportunity to recruit, telling a crowd, “We hate Jews.” He also hates people of color and said so, using the customary vile Klan epithet.

        This is also the same man who filed for the permit for the demonstration here. About 25 Klansmen showed up and were generally drowned out by about 100 protesters. It was an ugly hour, but while it was not peaceful, neither was there any physical violence.

Costly events
        Police blocked off the northeast quadrant of the plaza and used metal detectors on people entering. Carol Walker, administrative assistant to the city safety director, said she sent memos to the police division, as well as the recreation, traffic, highway maintenance and facility departments, asking for an accounting of funds spent on this event.

        “I don't know how much it will cost,” she said, “but I'm certain there will be cost involved because there will be additional officers.” About 40 were assigned to the rally.

        Ohio had a record number of Ku Klux Klan rallies this year, events which cost taxpayers about $800,000 in security and preparation expenses, ranging from $7,500 in Zanesville to $537,000 in Cleveland.

        Klan turnout has been sparse. In New York, they were heavily outnumbered by protesters — an estimated 6,000 people. One police officer was struck in the face with a size-D battery and another suffered a dislocated shoulder. Another officer's knee was crushed. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani noted these injuries were caused by anti-Klan demonstrators.

        Hatred breeds hatred and violence violence.

        “That's the dilemma,” said the NAACP's Milton Hinton. “You don't want to feed into their plans.” He said an alternative might be an interdenominational gathering somewhere else.

        You mean some nice, warm place where people would gather in the name of brotherhood, I asked. Taking the attention away from the hate-mongers?

        “Right,” he said.

        And what about people like me?

        “Well, somebody has to keep an eye on them.”

        Which is the final and best answer I can give to the woman who asks why the news media continue to publish stories about the Klan and the reason why I watched the straggly group in wash-and-wear hoods.

        Just because we don't look doesn't mean they're not there.

E-mail Laura Pulfer at, call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.


Confederate flag continues to divide