Klan’s ‘Free’ Speech Costs Cities
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ When the Ku Klux Klan came to Defiance, the city prepared for an invasion.
More than 250 police officers from several departments near the small northwest Ohio city came to keep the peace between at least 300 protesters and 41 Klansmen.
The hourlong rally March 20 by the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was uneventful, but peace came at a cost of $17,500 in overtime and other expenses, such as fences.
Defiance, a city of 16,000, is not alone in spending lots of money to ensure that a relatively small number of Klansmen can safely hold a rally.
With nearly two dozen Klan rallies so far this year, the bill for taxpayers has reached about $800,000. In 1994, the state received reports of 32 events involving the Klan and four involving other white supremacist groups. There have been at least 20 Klan events this year.
Ted Almay, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, said rallies died down after 1994 because a pivotal Klan organizer went to prison for beating an ex-girlfriend. The resurgence this year, he said, is partly due to James Roesch, an outspoken 18-year-old who calls himself Imperial Wizard of the American Knights of the White Kamellia.
Roesch said Klansmen don’t ask for police protection, and anti-Klan protesters are the ones trying to provoke fights and rioting.
``All we ask is to give our speeches,″ said Roesch, who lives in Rushylvania. ``There’s many ways a city could save money. The way they spend money is ludicrous.″
But even if protesters stayed away, officials say, they would have to prepare for confrontations anyway.
``If you don’t have adequate protection, things get out of hand and you catch a lot of criticism for that. If you’re adequately prepared, you catch a lot of criticism from people who say it’s overkill,″ said Defiance County Sheriff Dave Westrick.
After years of refinement, the state now provides an ``off the shelf″ plan to communities for dealing with rallies. The plan includes advice on crowd control, security and how best to separate protesters, Klansmen and the media, said Ted Almay, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
Now the state is also promising to help cut costs.
Attorney General Betty Montgomery said her office, for the first time, will make free metal detectors and fences available for use during rallies.
Her office spent $8,000 on two walk-through detectors, six handheld detectors and several miles of chain-link fencing.
Almay said the goal is to ``ease the burden of the small towns. A city like Columbus, we’ll help with intelligence and we’ll help that day get things together, but when you go to Urbana or places like that, this is devastating.″
The biggest cost to date has been in Cleveland, which said its Aug. 21 rally cost more than $537,000, mainly in overtime for police officers, street and water department employees, and other workers.
By contrast, a May 1 rally by the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Zanesville _ population 28,000 _ cost the city $7,500 and the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Department an additional $25,000.
``It is an unfortunate waste of taxpayers’ money to have to do that, but in order to keep the city safe and officers safe, it’s something you have to do,″ said Zanesville Police Chief Diane Quinn.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said the number of Klansmen who show up rarely matters since they are always going to draw large protest crowds, whether or not communities ask people to stay away.
Attempts to recover the cost of rallies from the Klan itself have met with limited success.
In June 1992, in a case involving a white supremacist group in Forsyth County, Ga., the Supreme Court said communities that impose permit fees for parades and rallies can’t charge more for controversial groups just because they might need more police protection.
Following a 1996 Klan rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., the city billed both the Klan and an anti-Klan organization $72,000 for the cost of security. The city never started collection action but hasn’t ruled out the possibility, city attorney Abigail Elias said.
Montgomery said there are real legal problems ``in terms of billing a particular group which is exercising its First Amendment rights, and selecting out one group because we don’t like it and saying, ‘We’ll protect you, but we’re going to charge you,’ but other groups we don’t charge.″