The City of Memphis has granted the Ku Klux Klan a permit to hold a rally this coming Saturday, March 30, in front of the Shelby County Courthouse, 140 Adams Ave, in downtown Memphis from 2 pm.-4 p.m.
The Klan’s rally will be held to protest the Memphis City Council’s recent action to rename the city’s three downtown Confederate parks, including one formerly named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan’s first grand wizard.
To protest the Klan’s rally and the fact that the city government allowed this racist protest, the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation created a mutiracial group, the Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality, made up of anti-racist activists in Mermphis and from around the country. The coalition first requested a permit from city officials to have a 1st Amendment rally in front of Memphis City Hall, 125 N. Main Street, from noon to 2 p.m. on March 30.
Our first request for a permit was denied by a private entity, the Downtown Memphis Development Commission, which the city allows to manage the plaza in front of City Hall. Our request was denied, we were told, because the area in front of City Hall had previously been reserved for a Christian cultural program from noon to 5 p.m. on March 30. This is highly dubioous, both that the commission would have authority to regulate a First Amendment rally and that the cultural groupwould be having an event mid-day when that had never happened before. Approving a First Amendment event is a governmental function, not that of a private entity.
The coalition then filed a request for a permit to hold our rally from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on March 30 at the Shelby County Courthouse, the same place where the Klan is scheduled to meet later. Today, the city’s Permit Office informed us that our request had been denied because the area we requested was not deemed “safe” for the public. If it’s safe for the Klan to exercise its 1st Amendment rights at the courthouse, why isn’t it safe for the coalition?
We believe that this is a ruse to prevent any anti-Klan demonstrations, and is being done in violation of recent state and federal court of appeals rulings outlawing the ability of city government officials to restrict the First Amendment rights of assembly, free speech and to submit a petition for a redress of grievances to the government. City officials also apparently want to create a security zone even larger than that created when the president of the United States visited Memphis in 2011.
What you can do to help:
1.The Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality cannot fight this legal battle alone. We need pro bono (free) legal aid. Please contact the ACLU of Tennesssee, email firstname.lastname@example.org, the National Lawyers Guild, email email@example.com, the Center for Constitutional Rights, at http://ccrjustice.org/contacting-center-constitutional-rights, the Black Law Student Association at the University of Memphis, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and other legal resources that you know of. Ask these groups to help the coalition take the necessary legal action to get its 1st Amendment rights to protest against the Klan.
2. Contact Memphis Mayor A C Wharton (email@example.com, (901),636-6000), and City Attorney Herman Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org, (901)636-6524). Express your concerns about the broad powers that the police director has to issue permits for 1st Amendment protests. When new more restrictive regulations were recently passed by the Memphis City Council, the city attorney stated that “First Amendment law is “nebulous and is fluid”, despite years of decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2012, and the U.S. Sixth Circuit court of Appeals in 2010.
3. Contact Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong (email@example.com, (901)636-3700). Express your concerns that police officials show the same respect for the 1st Amendment rights of anti-Klan protesters as are being accorded to the Klan and that police officials protect the safety of anti-Klan protesters just as much as they protect the safety of the Klan.
4. If you live in the Memphis or the Mid-South area and can act as a volunteer legal observer at the Anti-Klan protest in downtown Memphis on Saturday, March 30, please contact us. We need independent legal observers to monitor the treatment of anti-Klan protesters.
Peace and love,