BY JULIE IRWIN and LISA DONOVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The cross that Ku Klux Klansmen erected on Fountain Square Tuesday sat in a Cincinnati police parking lot Thursday, after it was torn down for the third time in two days.
The American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan vowed to return Saturday with a steel cross and around 30 members to replace the wooden one that officers found lying on the square Wednesday night. Police were waiting Thursday for Klan members to claim the damaged cross.
"It's sitting out back in the police parking lot," said Lt. Roger Wolf, police spokesman. "The owners will hopefully come and take this thing away. Whether they'll put it back up or not, I don't know."
Jeffrey Berry, imperial wizard of the American Knights, said there was no question about putting a cross back up.
"I have a piece of paper that says I have a constitutional right to put something up there," said Mr. Berry, of Butler, Ind. "We're coming down Saturday at noon with a steel cross and a whole bunch of Klansmen."
Mr. Berry said he and his colleagues were unable to be in Cincinnati Thursday to reclaim the cross because they had an
unrelated court appearance in Goshen, Ind. He wouldn't rule out another Klansman reclaiming the wooden cross and putting it back up before Saturday.
He also repeated his call for a hate-crime charge against the teen accused of taking down the cross Tuesday evening. It was torn down again a few hours after the teen's arrest; no one has been charged in the second or third incidents.
"If they don't prosecute that kid (in the first incident) with a hate crime, Cincinnati's in for one hell of a summer," Mr. Berry said.
Cincinnati Councilman Tyrone Yates is organizing a "flashlight vigil" Sunday evening to demonstrate against the Ku Klux Klan cross. The vigil will begin at 5:45 p.m. with speakers such the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil-rights leader, and local NAACP president Milton Hinton.
Mr. Yates, one of several African-American members of council, said he had been weighing for several days whether to make any kind of statement against the Klan cross. The Klan received a city permit to put the cross on the square Dec. 1-10.
"I wrestled with the question for a few days about whether it was better to ignore them or respond to the message they're trying to send," he said. "I felt that in this climate . . . and considering the evil of the message that the Klan cross represents, to not respond would be an error."
Mr. Yates has supported the Klan's First Amendment rights to put a cross on Fountain Square, and the courts have agreed with him. Still, he finds their message "reprehensible."
"It is important in a democratic society to hear from all voices, even those we find distasteful and those we abhor," he said.
"There's no contradiction between supporting the First Amendment right of a distasteful and hateful group and focusing a forceful, non-violent protest of what this group represents."
In 1990, U.S. District Judge Carl Rubin allowed a Jewish group to erect a menorah on Fountain Square. The Klan then demanded that it be permitted to display a cross.
With the exception of 1991, when the city denied a request for a permit, and 1997, when the Klan's leadership was having unrelated legal problems, the Klan has put up a cross every year since 1990. The city has fought the Klan in court over the request -- and lost repeatedly, as judges cited First Amendment protections.