Let the Klan Have Its Way; The People Will Have Theirs
by J. Alex Knoll

Years ago, as a child in elementary school, I remember a classmate named Eddie. No doubt about it, he was the class clown, and most times everyone found his antics amusing. However, from time to time he went over the line, like when he put a thumbtack on the teacher's chair. When Mrs. Merrick sat down -- and then bolted upright swearing -- it was no laughing matter. I think we all winced at her pain. Eddie was suspended, which wasn't his first time and which probably made little impact on him. However, I know I learned a lesson: Mrs. Merrick revoked recess privileges for the entire class for two weeks.

Unfair as it may be, the innocent often pay for the misdeeds of the guilty.

And once again it looks like -- if Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens has her way -- the innocent are going to pay for someone else's deeds.

This time it's not the class clown, it's the classless Klan.

At issue is the attempt by a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to partake in Anne Arundel County's Adopt-A-Road program. In that program, charitable organizations, communities and businesses agree to keep a section of public roadway free of litter in exchange for signs acknowledging their efforts.

Last fall, before the election, then-County Executive John Gary shelved the Klan's request to adopt a section of Gambrills Road in the Millersville area. Since then, Owens has inherited this distasteful request.

Hanging up their hoods in favor for the cloak of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, the Klan has won the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Precedence does not bode well for a potential ACLU lawsuit against the county, as federal courts in other states have ruled that denying the Klan the right to partake in Adopt-A-Road programs is discriminatory. Even were the county to win in court, such a lawsuit would be costly and drawn out.

So Owens has vowed to scrap the program rather than let the KKK partake.

Yes, the Klan has a right to the same freedoms of expression provided the rest of us. To ensure this freedom, we must at times stomach causes that leave us a little queasy.

So what are the choices? Leave our roadways litter filled or raise our taxes to provide better county cleanup? (Of course, if people were more conscientious about their trash -- from cigarette butts to Big Gulp cups to beer bottles -- but don't get me started.)

Let the Klan have its way and, as last week's New Bay Times editorial suggested, put up with something so "revolting on a beautiful morning [drive as] a sign that reads "The Invisible Empire"? I agree, this would turn my stomach and that of any reasonable person.

But I believe it would do much more. I believe it would galvanize the rest of us into action.

I empathize with Executive Owens' predicament. She does not wish to allow the Klan the sort of publicity and perhaps the impression of lending credibility to their hateful dogma.

But do we really need the county executive to protect us from the Klan's evil?

I say fight back!

In Florida's Pasco County, when the KKK in 1993 adopted a road near a bus stop where black students waited, the Klan's Adopt-A-Road signs were vandalized and stolen so many times that the county refused to spend more money for replacements. Finally the Klan gave up.

In Texas' Tarrant County, the State's Attorney General sued the Klan in what he called an attempt to intimidate minorities. Faced with vigorous legal and public opposition, the Klan gave up.

Already the debate has provided them the attention they want and provided them -- in their sick minds -- some legitimacy.

I say, let the Klan have its road; let them put up or shut up.

Throughout its existence, the KKK has lived up to its moniker "The Invisible Empire," its members hiding their faces and their deeds behind hoods and masks. Were they to adopt the disputed section of Gambrills Road, at least four times a year -- the minimum cleanup effort to partake in Adopt-A-Road- - hoods or not, those knights of hatred would be on public display. Let them pick up our trash, and let them face the angry drivers-by.

This is our county, and these are our roads. Let the Klan try to take them, and I believe people will stand up, shout out and take them back.

We should not be the ones paying for their deeds.

| Issue 12 |

Volume VII Number 12
March 25-31, 1999
New Bay Times

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