The Klan is back (it never went away), in Memphis

Riding the bus to the rallyMembers of the Ku Klux Klan staged a protest rally in Memphis on Saturday.

They were protesting the City’s decision to rename three bridges.  The New York Times reports:

The old names were Confederate Park; Jefferson Davis Park, named for the Confederacy’s president; and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, named for a Confederate lieutenant general and the Klan’s first grand wizard. The new names are Memphis Park, Mississippi River Park and Health Sciences Park, but the council may change those, too.


At first glance, it’s kind of amazing that the old names lasted as long as they did; the majority of Memphis’s population is black.

But it makes sense that the Klan would try to use this occasion to turn out its faithful.  The lost Confederate names are concrete symbols of exactly what drives Klan membership: white fears of the loss of status and privilege.  And perhaps citizen groups would turn out to counter protest, generating conflict and perhaps far more visibility to the Klan.  Clashes, arrests, and violence would generate national news and stoke that sense of threat that aids in mobilization.

But it was an overcast day.  The Times reports a turnout of about 75 demonstrators.  Police were determined to keep the event contained and non-violent.  Police cordoned off a section of the Downtown, and stationed officers in riot gear all around the contained area.  They bussed the Klansmen in from a local basketball arena, where they were asked to gather, searching the marchers before they could board the buses.  Although local authorities arranged for three buses, the Klan could only fill two.  The sound equipment they brought didn’t work very well, and even reporters had a hard time hearing the demonstrators as they marched in a fenced off protest pen.

Police asked residents to avoid the Downtown area, and promoted an Easter egg event on the other side of the city as an alternative.  A few counterdemonstrators came out to chant, but were separated by fences and a considerable distance from the Klansmen.  Klan chants, apparently, couldn’t be heard outside the immediate protest area.

The Commercial Appeal reports:

One Klan member who only identified himself as “Edward” wasn’t pleased with the event. “I wish it hadn’t rained on us, and that we hadn’t picked Easter weekend. We’d have had a lot bigger turnout,” he said.

Maybe.

The right to free speech, apparently, doesn’t include access to an audience.

Before you take too too much satisfaction in the KKK’s sad soggy mini-rally, think about what such police practices do to the causes you care about.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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