Residents vote against countering KKK demonstration Police, leaders urge that Klan be ignored

January 20, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

After a moment of silence in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and a group prayer to calm tempers, a crowd of Annapolitans voted last night against staging a counter-demonstration to protest next month's Klu Klux Klan rally in front of the State House.

The mostly black crowd of more than 200 people gathered at Asbury United Methodist Church on the national holiday commemorating King's work and agreed to hold a unity rally at a local church to oppose racism.

Last night's action was sparked by the recent approval of a permit for the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a rally Feb. 7 protesting the state's observance of Black History Month. It would be the Klan's second demonstration in four years in the state capital.

Police officials and several city leaders implored Annapolis residents to ignore the Klansmen and let them "preach to the pigeons."

"We have to stop being a reactionary community," said resident Darius Stanton, who brought his son to the meeting.

"Black community, let's stand up for ourselves," Stanton said, his voice rising. "Let's keep our children away. Let's keep our people away from that march."

Several people suggested holding a counter-demonstration in another part of the city. Others asked for prayer services.

Gerald Stansbury, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, suggested holding alternative "positive events" such as a basketball tournament to mark the celebration of Black History Month.

Although many supported a protest march, a significant factor in the decision last night might have been police testimony about similar counter-demonstrations in Tennessee, Delaware and Pennsylvania that erupted into violence.

State, county and city law enforcement officials pledged to protect citizens with "all our resources" but warned them that the Klan would try to incite a violent reaction from anti-Klan protesters.

Thirty to 60 Klansmen are expected to attend the rally, police said. Twelve uniformed state troopers will be assigned to the event as a "physical barrier" between the Klan and any spectators on Lawyer's Mall, and several undercover police officers will be in the crowd for security, police said.

"If the media and no one shows up for their demonstration, who will they demonstrate for?" asked Lt. Houston E. Karnes, commander of the Annapolis state police barracks. "That's just food for thought.

"But, if you choose to hold a counter-march, we will afford you the same protection as the Klan demonstrators," Karnes assured citizens. "We just don't want a riot. We don't want a civil disturbance. We don't want any of that."

Longtime civil rights activist Carl O. Snowden praised the group's action last night. He said a counter-demonstration will probably be held despite the vote but that "we want to inform the community that there are appropriate alternatives.

"It's not just a black-white issue," he said. "Anyone who knows the history of the Klan knows they are anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, anti-gay. In fact, they are anti-American. I think that if Dr. King were here today, he would be proud of Annapolitans and their peaceful efforts."

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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