When hatred rears its scaly head in your midst, how do you respond?
That’s the question faced by good people in our community this month, as many grapple with their feelings and reactions to the news that a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated group from Indiana plans a rally in downtown Dayton on May 25.
The so-called Honorable Sacred Knights applied several weeks ago for a permit to gather on Courthouse Square. The square is owned by Montgomery County and lies in the heart of the city; both government entities realized free-speech laws would not allow a flat-out dismissal of the request.
So the city sued the Knights in an effort to limit the rally’s prominence and scope, a move we applaud. This week, both parties reached a consent decree that set such parameters as preventing the group from dressing in paramilitary gear or carrying rifles, and ensuring that Dayton police will control members’ entry to and exit from the square – which will be closed off to anyone else. They may wear masks or hoods and carry legal side arms.
And so, some number of Knights will meet on an otherwise empty square from 1 to 3 p.m. that Saturday. Downtown Dayton’s recent renaissance notwithstanding, it’s unlikely that many folks will be accidentally exposed at that time of the week to whatever flags they happen to fly.
As an organization that does its work under the banner of the freedoms provided by the First Amendment, this newspaper recognizes the Knights’ constitutional right to give voice to their views, regardless of how vigorously we disagree with them. We appreciate that many members of our community have shaped their responses around a shared understanding of that constitutional right, and of the challenges that freedom of any and all speech can introduce into public discourse.
But we repeat: We find the message underlying the Knights’ rally to be abhorrent, and not welcome here.
Dayton city attorney Barbara Dosek commented in announcing the consent decree: “The city’s primary goal is keeping our residents safe while this rally occurs. This agreement does not mean we accept their hateful views or their presence is supported by our leadership, our community or our residents.”
That’s well said.
It isn’t necessary to detail all the reasons why any group aligned with the KKK should be considered unwelcome in a decent community. It is unfortunate they should make it their business to come into someone else’s town to preach hatred and attempt to sow discord.
They will not find that here. What they will find is a community that has responded by organizing peaceful events to counter their message. The group A Better Dayton Coalition has announced a counter-rally across Main Street in front of the former PNC Bank building – though it’s worth noting that city and police officials are asking folks to stay away from the area at the time. The Dayton branch of the NAACP is throwing a family-oriented community celebration at McIntosh Park off Edwin C. Moses Boulevard called “An Afternoon of Love, Unity, Peace and Diversity.” It’s from 1-3 p.m. the same day as the Knights’ rally.
Working alongside the Dayton Human Relations Council, a pop-up group calling itself United Against Hate organized in response to the news that the Knights wanted to visit. Its website, www.unitedagainsthatedayton.com, promotes peace-related events such as the NAACP celebration and has a sharp-looking “Dayton United Against Hate” poster that’s making the rounds on Facebook, accompanied by the hashtag #UnitedAgainstHateDYT. That would make a nice T-shirt – one you wouldn’t have to mask your face to wear.
Our newspaper is participating; we are publishing a print version of the United Against Hate poster — affirming our institutional belief that hatred has no place in our community. You will find it inside today’s edition, and we will publish it again on Thursday. It’ll look great in your window.
We’re proud of the community response. So far, it has been restrained, measured, thoughtful, broad-based and built on a platform of standing together regardless of background to find and celebrate the good in others. That is the kind of place we are happy to call home.
Whatever happens on the square will occur under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln, who once spoke before the Old Courthouse, and whose tall bronze statue was raised alongside its steps a few years ago to mark that occasion. What America’s greatest saint would have thought of the KKK and its sick, outmoded beliefs is not hard to imagine, just as it is not difficult for all of us to acknowledge that its very existence today signals that as a society, we all still have work to do. Let the conversations this rally has sparked be the start.
Ron Rollins is community impact editor of the Dayton Daily News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas Suddes will return next week.