A U.S. Department of Justice specialist encouraged people to stay away from a planned Ku Klux Klan rally in downtown Dayton in late May.
“But obviously if you choose to go, I still would not engage,” said Daedra A. Von Mike McGhee with the federal department’s Community Relations Services. “Because nothing good comes from that … There’s no way to engage peacefully or intellectually or any other way that would be positive for the community. What you would be doing is actually feeding into what they want.”
McGhee and local authorities met with the community Wednesday to discuss how to keep messages of hate from stirring up violence on May 25 when the KKK rallies in Dayton.
“We have to remember, these groups are coming here to incite us,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck. “Their goal is to come here … to get our community incited to do something. We know when large groups gather, people do stuff that’s out of character and that’s what they are relying on.”
Streck said he knows there will be those downtown opposing the message of the Honorable Sacred Knights, but hopes they “keep their wits about them.”
“Don’t let these people get us to do something we don’t want to do,” Streck told about 60 people at a forum sponsored by a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office program, Improving Modern Police and Community Trust.
McGhee said the Justice Department will offer local event marshal training for community groups having counter-protest events and is working with the Dayton Police Department and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office on contingency planning.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said three main responses to the planned Klan rally have percolated through the community: those who say ignore the group, ones wanting to confront the Klan, and those taking a third course.
Biehl said he was impressed with groups scheduling alternate events to express community values and “not appear in reaction to someone else who doesn’t live here.”
“I would think that we claim our power, our authority and our dignity when we choose to express who we are. Not in a form of reaction but of conscious action,” he said. “That I would think is what a mature community does.”
Biehl also revealed that part of downtown will be restricted on May 25 but declined to elaborate further on security preparations.
“There will be an area in downtown that has restricted access in order to maintain control of that venue. I will not define that area at this time,” he said. “We will have sufficient police resources to optimize the safety of anyone should they choose to attend that event … Our intent is to ensure this city — not just the event venue — is a safe place for all who will be here.”
Wednesday’s panel at the downtown Dayton Metro Library also included Benjamin C. Glassman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Megan Gaffney, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Dayton Community Police Council President Julio Mateo.
Montgomery County approved the permit in February for the Klan group out of Indiana to rally next month at Courthouse Square. The group will be engaged in “education and public speaking,” according to the activity description on the group’s permit application, which indicated an estimated 10 to 20-plus individuals were expected to attend.
Glassman said hate speech is not a federal crime and the only type of speech that is a federal crime involves a specific type of threat. Glassman also said there is no domestic terrorism statute for similar reasons.
“Anybody can think whatever they want. Anybody can say pretty much whatever they want and believe whatever they want and get together with whoever they want, however hateful one’s thoughts are or however hateful premises are for a basis for a group’s association,” Glassman said “Not only is that not a crime, the Constitution protects it.”
Society’s complacency has let white supremacist groups rebound, said Bomani Moyenda of Yellow Springs who attended the meeting.
“It’s a real uncomfortable thing for people to talk about. We’re all into our own comfort zones and this is something that snatches you right out of your comfort zone,” he said. “I think people have built up defenses – ways to ignore it — and it grows and grows and people have come along and successfully stirred up these kinds of sentiments.”
Moyenda said he likely won’t be taking advice from Wednesday’s speakers and will instead oppose the Klan group downtown.
“I probably will be down confronting that,” he said. “I probably will be down there standing against them.”
While she said she would be taking part in alternate events, Mary E. Tyler, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton, said the forum was beneficial for anyone regardless how they planned to respond to the Klan group.
“They are helping people understand what our responsibilities are if you are going to engage. That is critically important — that education and building awareness — so that we don’t become violent — or a Charlottesville,” Tyler said.
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