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The KKK paid $10 for a permit to hold a rally in Grand Rapids in 1995 and the GRPD protected them

July 6, 2021

In the past week, we have posted 2 articles about previous KKK gatherings in the Grand Rapids area. The first was in 1925, with at least 6,000 Klan members coming to the Furniture City, and a second gathering, which took place on a farm just south of Grand Rapids, near US 131, in 1970.

In today’s post we want to focus on a Klan rally that took place in late September of 1995. There was coverage in the Grand Rapids Press, both an article about the KKK applying for a permit in Grand Rapids and then one article about the Klan rally on September 30th in front of the Hall of Justice, which was then on Monroe St, right next to the Police Station.  

The Press article about the Klan getting a permit is instructive for several reasons. First,  the article states that the Klan only needed to pay $10 to get a permit for their rally. Second, it gives significant space to a national Klan spokesperson, who argues that they are coming to Grand Rapids to speak on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Global Agreement on Tariff’s and Trade (GATT), illegal immigration and White Pride. Third, the Press article also cites the head of the City’s Park’s and Recreation Department, who argues that this is a free speech issue and that their office can’t take sides. Fourth, the Press reporter didn’t bother to get any comments from groups in down that were doing racial justice work at the time, plus the reporter does not question or explore the four themes that the Klan spokesperson was going to address.

The Grand Rapids Press article that came out after the Klan rally on September 30th was also rather telling. The headline read, Klan leader unfazed by angry crowd, with a subheading that said, It took 120 police officers, but the crowd was controlled with just a few minor arrests.

In addition to the awful headline, the Press article was also poorly written. The reporter cited the national Klan spokesperson at length and never questioned or verified any of the claims made by the KKK. The Press reporter also cited then Police Chief William Hegarty who said that the most effective protest would have been for people to not protest the Klan and just stay home. This is a typical liberal response to hate groups, which was ignored by at least 500 people who came to protest the Klan, trying to shout them down, but also hurling eggs and bottles at the less than 10 KKK members who staged the rally.

Over 500 people showed up to tell the Klan to leave

The Press reporter did cite some people who came to the protest, but each was only given a few words to state their point of view.

The article did say that the GRPD had erected portable fencing to separate the Klan and those who came to confront them. The GRPD also had numerous cops standing between the crowd and the Klan members, plus cops posted on roof tops and above Monroe St at the overlook area by City Hall. 

I was there that day to protest the Klan, plus Mannie Gentile and I were using equipment from GRTV, to film what was happening.

It is interesting that this Klan rally took place just months after a ballot measure was passed to change the City Charter to reflect that the GRPD should get at least 33% of the City’s budget. The GRPD had 120 officers out that day, which was nearly half of the entire police department. It’s ironic that the GRPD and their supporters fought to get the increased budget allocation so that they could defend the free speech rights of a hate group.

The article does note that there were several people who came to protest the Klan that day, notably independent newspaper publisher Rob LaDew, who jumped the fencing in protest of the Klan. LaDew also was quoted as saying he was not happy with the NAACP chapter that agreed with the strategy to stay home and ignore the Klan rally. I remember talking with Rob LaDew about his arrest and he also felt like it was appropriate that the Klan held their rally in front of the Hall of Justice. LaDew made the point that the Klan members wearing white robes and no different than the judges who wear black robes, especially in terms of the harm they both do that is disproportionately directed at African Americans. 

In the end it is important to point out that the Klan rally was an abysmal failure and that the number of people who showed up to say that Hate is Not Welcome in this community won out. Don’t buy into the notion that we should ignore groups like the Klan when they come into our community, show up and resist it!

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