Part II: Report, Anti-Klan Demonstration, March 30, 2013, Memphis, TN.
Why the People protested in the rain, Why the Klan came to Memphis.
by JoNina Ervin, Acting Chair, Memphis Black Autonomy Federation
Defeat For Mayor A C Wharton
The most significant outcome of Saturday’s demonstration was that at least 1,200 people (according to estimates by local mainstream news media), the majority of them Memphis residents, defied Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and came downtown in pouring rain to protest against the Klan. The fact that so many people came to the anti-Klan protest is very important when you consider the following:
For several days prior to the KKK rally, “Boss” Wharton, assisted by his cronies on the city council, in civil rights, religious, and white liberal groups, flooded the local media with the message that Memphis residents should “ignore” the Klan and stay away from downtown on March 30. Instead, the mayor and his sycophants urged people to come to an “alternative” event sponsored by the mayor, big business, and civil rights, religious groups and others, billed as the “Heart of Memphis.” This event featured an Easter egg hunt for children, free food, workshops and other activities. It was by no means a protest against the Klan but was billed as a “celebration” of the city’s cultural “diversity.” (Memphis is about 65 percent black. It is not a culturally diverse city!) The not-so-subtle message of the mayor’s propaganda campaign, which was promoted by the mainstream media, was that people who wanted to protest against the Klan were “troublemakers.”
The mayor got about 1,500 people at his event, according to local news media—only about 300 more people than attended the anti-Klan protest. Instead of ignoring the Klan, hundreds of people in Memphis ignored the mayor! This was a major defeat for Wharton.
Why Applying for a Permit Was Important
I want to clarify issues concerning the permit obtained on behalf of the Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality for the Anti-Klan demonstration. The Memphis Memphis Black Autonomy Federation created the coalition with the initial purpose of organizing a multiracial counter-demonstration against the Klan. Since July, 2012, MBAF has held three demonstrations and several other actions against police brutality in Memphis, where 14 people have died at the hands of the police since January, 2012. The majority of our protests were held in front of Memphis City Hall. One was held in front of the headquarters of the Memphis Police Department, and one was held in front of a police precinct office. All these protests were held at government offices, where citizens have First Amendment rights to protest.
When MBAF’s earlier protests were held, the city council was the primary authority for approving “parade” permits. However, two weeks before the Klan’s rally, the city council passed a new ordinance granting the police director virtually the sole authority to approve permits. MBAF believes that the new ordinance is unconstitutional. In order to have legal grounds to later challenge the ordinance in court, we filed for a permit. We also believed that since police director Toney Armstrong approved the white terrorist Klan’s request for a permit to spew its racist hatred, then the Ida B.Wells Coalition had a right for a permit to denounce the Klan’s bigotry.
Although not impossible, it much more difficult for a group like the coalition, which does not have non-profit status, to be granted a permit for a march and rally than it is for a non-profit group.
Power To The People, Inc., a 501 c(3) non-profit organization, with which my husband Lorenzo and I have worked for several years, applied for the permit on behalf of the Ida B. Wells Coalition.
The coalition had to apply three times before our permit was approved. Our initial request to the city permits office was for a First Amendment rally from noon to 2 p.m. on March 30 front of city hall, which is a couple of blocks from the Shelby County Courthouse, the site of the Klan’s rally, that was scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. The head of the permits office told us that we had to first submit our application to the Downtown Memphis Commission. We were told that the commission manages the Mid-America Mall in front of city hall. We did not understand why such a group would have any authority over First Amendment protests.
The commission denied our request, claiming that a religious group was having a cultural program in front of city hall at the time we requested for our rally. We did not believe that any such program was going to be held, and that it was fabricated by city officials to prevent the coalition from having our protest. In our second request for a permit, we applied to have a rally in front of the courthouse. That request was also denied. We were told that anti-Klan groups would be restricted to the east side of the courthouse. So, we filed a third permit, which was granted on March 28, We also learned that day about the draconian security measures imposed by the police department, which included closing off several areas in the downtown area near the courthouse. One of those areas was the Mid-America Mall area in front of city hall—where we had been told there would be a cultural event at the time we had originally requested to use it. This was our proof that city officials lied to us when they said the area had previously been reserved.
MBAF believed that other groups would file permits for counter-demonstrations. However, this turned out not to be the case. Consequently, had the coalition not filed for a permit, no one would have been able to come, and there would have been no counter-protests. Tactically, we did the only thing that we could to protect our rights. We still need to sue city the government to get rid of the unconstitutional regulations allowing the police department to control and approve political protests and arrest people on a summary basis for “illegal assembly.”
Why The Klan Protested
by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin
The Klan is trying to re-establish its presence in Memphis. A couple of months ago, KKK fliers were circulated in east Memphis, where the largest concentration of white people live. The overwhelming majority of people in Memphis who have suffered economically during the last five years are black. However, Memphis does have a white poor and working population living on the east side of the city, some ex-factory workers and others who might be won over to the Klan, and who hate being reduced to poverty under a black president. These neighborhoods are well-to-do in comparison with most black areas that are basically ignored. However, these white middle neighborhoods are slipping into poverty, and the Klan says that black people, from Obama on down, are responsible for taking what the “white man is entitled to and giving it to them (blacks).”
The Klan has always had its way with the racist Confederacy preservation movement, founded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. SOCV has been able to get every Memphis city administration since 1904 to finance and maintain the “white history “parks, while Dr. Martin Luther King jR. just got a street named for him by Memphis city government in 2011, some 44 years after the fact, and Ida B. Wells, 19th century Black journalist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-lynching advocate and co-founder of the NAACP has yet to have anything but a plaque in a muddy field in a economically depressed ghetto area.
The Klan feels that it is their right to have white supremacy and Confederate civil war symbols, as a matter of protecting white civil rights, and they are mobilizing in the white community with the idea of organizing an urban Klavern, a Klan chapter for a region. They have a unique opportunity because of so many years of collaboration between city officials and the Klan leaders. At first, this was to ensure tranquility from the racists who would not engage in violence against Blacks in the city, nor lead disruptive protests. All this was fine until 1998, when they protested Dr. Martin Luther Kings birthday in January 1998. The resulting uproar even caused the SOCV to demand that they stop holding demonstrations in the ciyt, just come to the parks for racist ceremonies, and this was the case until the 2004 Centennial celebration took place and it leaked into the news media. In early 2005,750 Black activists led by brothers Walter and D’Army Bailey, along with Al Sharpton, national civil rights leader, held a rally at the N.B. Forrest park downtown demanding that the Confederate parks be closed down, and that Forrest’s remains be returned to either his family or a private cemetery, and that his likeness on a horse statute be put in mothballs or dismantled. Mayor Herenton refused to honor their demands, although he did move the statute out of the downtown area.
In 2013, the Klan is split into various factions, and could only muster 63 Klan and Nazi members to come to Memphis. although truthfully, they do have several thousand members nationwide, and are starting to grow again. We cannot depend on their weaknesses and mistakes to bail us out for the weakness of the anti-racist movement. We also must understand that it is the state and its police forces which are the greatest threat of fascism to our community. A Black city government mobilized over 600 cops, 4 armored personnel carriers, police in body armor, armed with submachineguns, and other deadly weapons, all armed to the teeth to protect the Klan against the people.
We must continue to fight against racism and police brutality, continue to build our movement, combat illegal counter-insurgency measures to stop us, and develop allies all over the country. We must have this movement active and fighting against police brutality, unemployment and poverty of (especially Black) workers and the poor, the of government revenues for the poor and workers, to stop the destruction of collective bargaining, and to stop racial profiling of Black and other peoples of color, in addition to combating the Klan. We must make the Ida B. Wells coalition into a national coalition, or at lest a regional coalition of midwestern and southern activists, if we want to Change Memphis and the rest of this area.
If you or your group are interested in joining the coalition, please contact us in care of the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation, P.O. Box 16382, Memphis, TN 38186-0382, email organize,.firstname.lastname@example.org.