Sunday, November 26, 2000
Trumping the Klan
How can Cincinnati counter hate group's message?
It is a lost cause, but should we fight it anyway?
For the past few weeks, Cincinnati City Council has been turning on a spit over that question trying to decide whether to grant the Ku Klux Klan a permit to erect a display on Fountain Square during the holiday season.
Technically, the decision falls to the administration, not council. But morally, council should make the call.
According to the city solicitor's office, there isn't anything that Cincinnati can do legally to stop this raggedy band of hatemongers. If the city tries to stop them, the Klan will go to federal court, where the Constitution says they must prevail.
The solicitor's office is advising council not to try to block the display. That is sound legal advice. Council wants desperately to ignore it.
As many times as we have said we abhor the Klan, there is still a perception among some people that this is orchestrated, and that we give them a permit because we really don't mind what they say, said Mayor Charlie Luken. It's a terrible perception.
At last Monday's meeting of council's Law and Public Safety Committee, Chairman Charlie Winburn begged anyone who could find a legal loophole to stop the Klan to please come forward. I don't want to sell the public false hope that we can keep the Klan off the square ... but if anybody has got any creative loopholes for this, I will listen, Mr. Winburn said.
OK, here is a suggestion: Give the Klan its permit, and then lead us in another direction.
We can't stop the Klan, we can only counteract it. The solicitor is correct. The law does, and should, allow the Klan to speak. Denying them access to the square will just result in costly and fruitless litigation. There is even the possibility that, because members of council know they have no legal basis for denying a permit, they could be held personally liable if they tried.
Confronting the Klan on the square is even more senseless. It promotes the violence we want to stop and causes the city to spend money on extra police.
The Klan wants to put up a cross and pass out their bile for 10 days starting on Dec. 2. While they do that, Cincinnati should show the world why this city is not represented by the message of the Klan. Ironically, we've done that successfully in the past.
Several years ago, after the city lost a court fight with the Klan, former Councilman Tyrone Yates organized a multi-cultural candlelight vigil on the square, on a night when the Klan did not have a permit for its display. Nationally recognized civil rights leaders spoke and the media focused on the symbolism of that event, leaving the subsequent Klan display almost unnoticed that year. The Southern Poverty Law Center carries the story of that rally on its Web site as an example of how to counteract messages of hate.
There have been other, sporadically successful efforts. A group of Baptist ministers grabbed all the available permits last year, so there was nothing left for the Klan. Other groups have put up friendship trees on the square.
But after each success, we have dropped our guard, and the Klan has come sneaking back. That needs to change.
If people like Charlie Luken and Charlie Winburn really want to lead a fight against the Klan, they should organize demonstrations that promote and celebrate our tolerance. And the rest of us should help.
A few ministers have been willing to act, but where are the rest of the churches and temples? There shouldn't be a single member of the clergy in our community unwilling to speak out against the hatred the Klan represents.
Is there a school in the community unwilling to use this as a civics lesson? Unwilling to explain to its students that America not only tolerates but welcomes diversity? What better time than the holiday season for schools to stage assemblies to celebrate peace, unity and acceptance of our differences?
Are there any parents in this community unwilling to teach their children that tolerance and understanding are better than hate and bigotry? Have you ever had a conversation with your kids on this subject? If not, this is a good time to start.
Council should let the Klan have its measly demonstration on the square, then stage another demonstration, one that shows the city and the world what kind of a place Cincinnati really is. How about the first annual Cincinnati festival of tolerance. Borrow one of the stadiums down on the riverfront and fill it up with our own vigil.
As long as people are willing to say they do not support the messengers of hate, this will not be a lost cause.
David Wells is associate editorial page editor of the Enquirer.
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