The Jim Crow system the KKK was created to enforce has died. Now, though, we have a new Jim Crow: our criminal justice system. Millions of Americans, mostly those of color, are railroaded into jail, slapped with heavy fines and monthly probation fees, stripped of their rights and ability to get gainful employment far beyond their sentence. It is a system that robs Americans of civil rights, one that has turned arrest into conviction—guilty until proven innocent. Meanwhile, we ignore it, calling it “rule of law”—a phrase that used to be “law and order,” which we all knew meant Jim Crow. We pay through our teeth for unnecessary prisons, have turned our police force into a macho force that continues to see black as wrong, and write more and more laws meant to gain federal dollars for “law enforcement” that is…a new Jim Crow. And then we can’t understand the anger that rises up from the ashes of this new caste system?
Mayor Wharton should reject the KKK’s application to rally on March 30. I know, I know: free speech, and all that. But sometimes public safety comes before free speech. A parade of obtuse dorks through downtown Memphis will not only galvanize the obtuse-dork-bloc in Memphis, but is sure to show so many other Memphians so effectively the bliss in being obtuse dorks that we’re bound to see sudden, city-wide conversions to obtuse dorkism on April 1. And then we’ll find ourselves facing a force of obtuse dorks large enough to seriously disturb everyone’s good time at the Summer Drive-In. Please, Mayor Wharton, reject this petition. The KKK is not, really not, just a ridiculous and completely toothless relic of an obsolete, embarrassing history. Seriously.
Of course the Council must allow the KKK to hold a peaceful rally in our city. The freedoms of speech and assembly in the Bill of Rights mean all our citizens have the right to gather and express themselves. All of us should zealously protect these rights. If only those groups approved by the majority of citizens are allowed to rally, then we have only privileges, not rights. And privileges can be taken away. So, I wholeheartedly endorse their right to a peaceful rally.
And I will wholeheartedly ignore them. Since I am Christian, the day of their rally is Holy Saturday for me. I intend to spend that day as I ordinarily would—with prayers, with family, watching basketball (go Tigers go!), and maybe dyeing Easter eggs. My encouragement to my fellow Memphians is to do the same. Whatever your faith tradition calls you to do on such a day, do it wisely and well. Those of us who are Christian should prepare for our holiest day by giving our attention to what God has done. In a world filled with hate, violence, and death, God has displayed the power of love and life in the resurrection of Jesus. Let us spend the day preparing our hearts to receive the joyful Easter message once again.
If the KKK chooses to spend their day dressed in Halloween costumes and spewing hate-filled, violent words, well, so be it. But let’s not give them one minute of our day. Don’t fight with them, don’t heckle them, indeed don’t be there and don’t watch. Give them no audience, no response at all. Treat the rally as if it cannot affect us, because in fact it cannot unless we allow it.
Given the violence that KKK demonstrations foment and the divisions they deepen, I feel the city should have the latitude to deny their request for a Downtown rally, constitutional free speech issues notwithstanding. If the city grants their request, the less attention we pay them the better — especially on a day before the day churches across greater Memphis shout from the rooftops Easter’s gospel of the ultimate triumph of love over hate, life over death.
The promotion of evil in our city, although often allowed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is very sad and can be discouraging to our citizens. The best way to respond to the KKK demonstration, as with other forms of wickedness, is to pray, to teach our children and grandchildren why this action is immoral, to assure those in our city most offended by this threatening presence that we stand with them, and to stay away from the demonstration. Memphis is a great city. We are growing in our love and respect for one another. We must never allow a few sick and disturbed people to throw us off our steady stride toward justice.
Yes, the city should approve their application. We get on a slippery slope when we start to “approve” one group and “disapprove” another. We should respond by showing up in silence (since this would be Holy Saturday) and pray for them. This would send a powerful witness; imagine hundreds standing and kneeling and praying.
Free speech and free assembly are some of the most basic rights enshrined in our constitution, so the city must, unfortunately, allow this ugly gathering to take place. The great civil rights preacher Will Campbell once stated that Jesus died for all — even KKK sinners in hate groups – so let us hope that they appreciate the true meaning of Easter this year. A root canal without anesthesia, a digital prostate exam, or a nasal tube aspiration are all things that I would rather do than watch this charade of KKK values occur.
It baffles me why our city would grant a permit for a hate, and in the past a terrorist group, to hold a rally on any day, much less the day before Christendom’s most sacred day. So many of our fellow citizens have worked tirelessly and over decades for racial justice and reconciliation and will continue to do so whether or not our City allows the KKK or other terrorists/hate groups to hold rallies. But that said, having such a group of cowards who cover their faces enter our city with their hate filled rhetoric only serves to exasperate the efforts of people of good will and besmirches our city’s reputation. If they are allowed to come and spew their vitriolic venom, the worse thing Memphians can do is to fight hate with hate or violence. One strategy is to ignore them. Another is to hold prayer vigil during their rally, praying for the Shalom of our city. Praying for Shalom in the face of hatred is nothing new for people of faith. Let’s pray for the Shalom of Memphis today and every day that God in His grace will bless our city with His peace.
During the lifetime of many of us, racial segregation lost its justification as people of faith increasingly saw that we are all children of God, equal in God’s eyes. Instead of alarm over the plan for the Klan rally, perhaps it will help us recall again how important it is not to view any one of His beloved children as worth less than others, or menacing or evil—not even those whose fears have attracted them to the Klan or other extremist groups.