By Jessica Garraway / Deep Green Resistance Great Plains
On March 30th, sixty-five Ku Klux Klan members gathered at the steps of the Shelby County Court House and marched in response to the recent name changes of three previously confederate parks in Memphis. One of these parks, formerly known as Bedford Forest Park, was renamed Health and Science Park. Nathan Forest was the first grand wizard of the Klan and was responsible for massacring over three hundred black people during the Civil War.
Twelve hundred people turned out to the counter protest demonstration against the Klan despite the alternative event across town put on and promoted by Mayor A. C. Wharton Jr. and city officials with live music and Easter festivities in efforts to discourage people from going to the rally site. The majority of those in attendance were residents of Memphis, however many organizations came from outside of Memphis including Florida Anti-Fascists, KC IWW from St. Louis, IWW, Deep Green Resistance, Black Autonomy Federation from Memphis, Concerned Citizens for Justice Team from Chattanooga, TN., Chattanoogans Organized for Action, Black Bloc Chicago, Anti Racist Action, Memphis Black gang members rep, Let’s Organize the Hood, and Direct Action Memphis.
Many of those who gathered marched down the streets, but were latter funneled into “Free Speech” zones where they could not see or get near the Klan. Hundreds of police in militarized gear lined the streets of downtown Memphis and lined the fences of the gated designated protest area. Lorenzo Ervin, a founding member of the Black Autonomy Federation and a main organizer of the counter protest wrote in a note entitled “Memphis Anti-Klan Demonstration: Protesting in a Police State“: “…in response to critics who asked why the Klan was being allowed to protest at all, they put together a police army of 600 cops, 4 military armored cars with machine guns, a chain link fence to separate protesters from Klan, and confine the residents of Memphis behind a line of paramilitary riot police was used to “protect” the Klan from the people.”
Thirty one year old Cedric Moore of Tipton County (twenty miles from Memphis) stated that “if the KKK had a real point to prove they wouldn’t need these police”. His sister, thirty-five year old Porteia More who is also a resident of Tipton County expressed her reasoning for coming out to the counter demonstration: “They came here years ago and I wasn’t able to come… I made it a point to be here on today but I did not know we would not have a chance to see them. I wanted to understand why they were here and marching… I understand they don’t want the symbol to be changed but it’s time for everyone just to get along.”
When asked what her opinion was of the police response to protestors she responded: “I think it’s just too much going on. We see many police out in uniform versus the KKK… I think it’s too much.” Twenty-year-old Lando from Horn Lake, Mississippi echoed similar sentiments: “It looks they are treating us like the enemy… They have police from all counties out here. All this money invested in some KKK.”
JoNina Ervin, standing chair of the Black Autonomy Federation and organizer of the counter protest, took issue with the permit process and what she views as an overall violation of people’s right to free speech. The Black Autonomy Federation had to apply three times to hold their protest and were finally approved only two days before the march. In the past, authority to approve permits lay in the hands of the city council, but it was changed to the police director the 19th of March two days before they applied for their first permit. “We thought the procedures to get the permit were unconstitutional,” stated JoNina.
“Once we find an attorney we want to go to court to challenge the city ordinance. We were told we could not bring any leaflets, flyers or posters into the protest area… I noticed at the Klan rally through videos they had posters. Our free speech has been restrained. How can you voice your first amendment rights when you’re being intimidated? Pretty soon we won’t have any free speech rights unless we challenge these policies.”
No one was hurt that day, and only one arrest was made.
If you would like to get in contact with the Black Autonomy Federation or offer support, please contact them at Organize.firstname.lastname@example.org.