On a balmy recent Sunday afternoon, the KKK visited Douglasville, Georgia. Throngs of us decided to pay a visit to our visitors. Many gathered along the road, some with their families and lounge chairs as if they were about to watch a Christmas parade. Some brought Bibles, others protest placards bearing words unprintable in this space. As expected the police turnout was large as was the media.
You see, the KKK came to protest the sentences of a local man and woman who received long prison terms for yelling racial slurs and pointing guns at participants at a 10 year-old’s black kid’s birthday party.
Now I’ve traveled all over the world, have marched in with Muslims (although I’m not a Muslim) after 9/11, and in Gay Pride parades (although I’m not gay). However, for the first time in my life this was my first KKK protest rally. It was about 5 miles from my house.
As the morning wore on, you could feel the tension building up. 30 minutes elapsed before our “guests” showed up. Before then some disappointed folks folded up their chairs and headed towards their parked vehicles. “Man, I couldn’t wait to see those clowns,” shared a 40-something black man who stood next to me.
“Although I’m from a small town in Louisiana, I’ve never seen a Klan rally,” said a black woman from behind dark sunglasses. “Interesting that I had to move to Georgia to see one.”
Suddenly there was commotion at the end of the parking lot and police officers, the media, cameras in tow, and the crowd headed that way. The Klan had finally arrived.
I somehow elbowed myself within four feet of several KKK members. Surprisingly, there was not a white robe among them. Rather, Confederate flags stretched across black leather jackets and on scarves covering heads.
One Klan member went nose-to-nose with a huge black fellow, the latter person bearded and dressed from head to toe in army fatigues. A woman with red, white and blue dyed hair, tattooed from neck to ankles, bright red lipstick and leather shorts became the center of attraction. Clearly, she relished the attention, the cameras and the microphones thrust in her face.
I think that it’s important to put this situation into a historical context as an unfortunate example of what sometimes happens when a community undergoes drastic demographic changes.
You see, like many other communities across the nation, Douglas County has undergone rapid change. In 1990 the County was 91% white. But by 2010 the black population surpassed that of whites and the county began undergoing many of the high emotions that occur when racial change happens. For the first time in its history, Douglasville recently elected a black mayor, a black county commissioner and a black police chief.
“Probably have to pack up and get out of here, you know,” uttered an incumbent Republican County Commissioner during last year’s election. Unbeknownst to him he was being secretly recorded and it went viral. “Do you know of another government that black that’s successful? They bankrupt you.”
This takes us to the unfortunate reality that rapid demographic change sometimes invites backlash. The rash of bombings of mosques and gay clubs leaves many communities feeling vulnerable and unsafe. And add to all this are the two recent bomb threats leveled at Jewish Centers (incidently by an African-American and an Israeli-American).
“So friends, what can we do other than just sit back and watch this stuff mushroom?”
I threw that question out to a short list of folks whose views I greatly respect. Marc Brenman, a writer and social justice advocate, was one of the few who responded with concrete advice:
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has concrete methods of dealing with the haters. It tracks the groups and their members. It litigates against them civilly and wins judgments against them. It has an excellent track record. These judgments help bankrupt the hate groups. Local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities should work with SPLC, and conduct thorough forensic investigations, make arrests, and bring forth prosecutions”.
Brenman also suggests that a more proactive response from law enforcement is needed.
“Law enforcement authorities should take domestic terrorism and hate crimes more seriously. Domestically, they are a much bigger threat than foreign terrorism. Not all states have hate crime laws. All should. A more controversial set of recommendations is for good thinking people and groups to obtain firearms training, purchase shotguns, and stand your ground. Many states have stand your ground laws, which permit using firearms in self-defense based on a perception of threat. Alas, when African-Americans have done this in the past, such as the Black Panthers, they’ve been killed by racist law enforcement authorities. Nevertheless, it may be worth trying again, especially when law enforcement fails to do its duty.”
In the end, our KKK visitors left town without fanfare. And in their wake the rest of us are left sorting through our frustration, figuring out motivations behind these acts of terror – “moments in a Sunday afternoon sun in Georgia,” revenge by ex-boyfriends, or, as my fellow writer Deborah Levine wonders, “or are we looking at macho overload as a cultural phenomenon?”
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