Why Memphis needs to protect the Klan

Officials in Memphis, Tennessee are girding themselves this morning for a potentially explosive situation in the middle of their city. The Ku Klux Klan is back, and they’re planning a rally where they will bus in supporters from all over to demonstrate in the center of town. If you’re in the law enforcement business, this is a tense time.

A large portion of downtown Memphis, Tennessee, will be locked down Saturday to avoid hostilities during a rally organized by the Ku Klux Klan.

WMC-TV reported on Friday that pedestrian, commercial and auto traffic will be diverted around the area surrounding the Shelby County courthouse, where the rally is scheduled to be held.

The only people allowed inside will be klan members and participants in an opposing rally organized by a local civic group, Power to the People, and all of them will have to go through a security checkpoint.

It’s easy to get all up in arms over events like this, but it remains important for Memphis – and every other location in the United States – to do the hard work required to keep the Klan safe and prevent violence at their rallies. No matter how offensive their principles or the remarks made by any of their members, the one thing you don’t want is the government limiting anyone’s rights of free speech, even if they only do so by failing to adequately protect those engaging in unpopular speech. Long time readers already know that I’ve never been much of a fan of the “Occupy” crowd and their rodent infested, far too rapey camps. But I don’t want their voices shut out of the conversation by the government and they still deserve the same protections under the law as anyone else.

But another reason for a second look at today’s rally in Memphis is the subject of their protest. Apparently they aren’t just showing up to air their usual complaints about people with the wrong color skin, or Teh Jooooos or whoever else they’re hating this week. This time they’re actually protesting official public policy.

Organizers of the “white unity event” said it will be a response to the Memphis City Council’s decision in February 2013 to rename local parks named after Confederate figures Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Confederacy itself.

It’s an interesting debate, and one worth having in my opinion, even if it’s the Klan bringing it to light. I have cause to travel in the South pretty frequently these days and some of the cultural tug of war going on there is worth a look. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to bring back slavery or promote any sort of white supremacy, but I do talk to more than a few folks who harbor some strong, lingering feelings about The War of Northern Aggression. And some of them clearly don’t like the idea of the government doing things like this. It’s not that they agree letter and verse with everything that Jefferson Davis or Forrest believed in, but they also consider them important, historic figures who shouldn’t simply be whitewashed from the pages of history just because society has evolved.

This will be an unpopular event, no doubt, and the media will have a field day talking trash about Southerners in general as they usually do. But this is still free speech in action, and the City of Memphis needs to make sure it remains protected.

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