Stick it to the Klan: Help those they hate

Friday, December 4, 1998

There's nothing like a Klan cross on Fountain Square to put me in the holiday spirit.

When I saw five scruffy Klansmen standing by their lumber cross this week, watched as seven uneasy cops protected those dirt balls from an angry crowd and heard a passerby wonder, "Where's a rock to throw," I immediately thought of peace on Earth, good will toward men.

Then I wanted to find a rock and heave it at the Klan.

Sad to say, but I lose all reason when I come face-to-face with evil.

But throwing hard objects with the intent to hurt is wrong. It's an act of violence that would bring me down to the Klan's level.

Beaning those creeps with a rock, or, as others have done twice this week, trashing the Klan's wooden cross would be against my peace-loving upbringing and that basic niceness ingrained in all Cincinnatians.

But I still can't stand the sight of the Klansmen and their cross. That cross they like to hide behind is no more a religious symbol than a Nazi swastika is a peace sign.

This is a season of love. And peace. The Klan preaches hate. That message has no place on the square during the holidays.

Or any other day.

Sad history

Cincinnati has put up with the Klan and its message on the square for eight of the last nine Christmases. They skipped us last year. The Klansman handling the display was awaiting trial for raping two girls.

Every year the Klan hits the square, I go over the same arguments in my mind as to how this can be.

The Klan's appearance is perfectly legal. Beginning with the holiday season of 1990, federal courts, right here in our city, ruled the group has a constitutionally guaranteed right to be on the square and exercise its freedom of speech.

You could look at the annual Klan blot on the square as a lesson. Next to symbols of the holiday season -- the Christmas tree, the menorah -- the Klan shows up to remind us of one of mankind's greatest failings -- bigotry. We get to see how normal Klansmen look. They might be the guy sitting next to you at a football game or shopping with you at the mall. The Klansmen provide us an annual glimpse of the banality of evil.

But I'd rather not see it anymore.

Friends tell me to leave it alone. Forget about the display. Ignore it and they will go away.

I've tried. The Klan's still there.

I want them gone.

Sweet harmonyThe Klansmen's cross landed on the square thanks to our indifference. To get on the square, the Klan filled out an application for a permit to put up a holiday display. Any organization can. There's no fee. Applications are handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

The square can hold three displays at a time for a maximum of 10 days each. The holiday season lasts 30 days. If every display stands for 10 days, nine slots are available. This year, only five groups applied for a permit. One was the Klan.

In 1996, the last time the Klan did Christmas downtown, I wrote a column about stuffing the application box with requests for displays. My idea was for good folks to book the square first and freeze the Klan out.

Maybe in 1999 an ad hoc committee can be formed to make sure all permits for the square are taken. You wouldn't even need to put up an elaborate display. Just let the square be free of hate.

But that's next year. I hope.

For now, we must avoid violence -- and protest in silence. Daily prayer vigils -- for justice and racial harmony -- are held at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. when the cross is standing.

Or, in this season of giving, we could donate to groups whose goals run counter to the Klan's aims. Try the United Negro College Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Anti-Defamation League, the Holocaust Museum or the Greater Cincinnati region of the National Conference for Community and Justice.

Finding a group to receive donations shouldn't be too difficult. Just look for one that favors what the Klan opposes, one that supports peace, harmony and love.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

Klan says new cross will be sturdier