During this week, in light of the recent verdict (or lack there of) in Ferguson I will be publishing some excerpts from my Cool Disco Dan journal from my early years in Washington DC. The series describes two visits to the city by the KKK in September and October of 1990 and my witness to, and learnings from, those events.
Sept. 2, 1990 – Sunday
In the afternoon, we went down near the Washington Monument to participate in the protest against the KKK who were marching to the Capitol. We arrived at Constitution Ave. and all we saw were people, signs (“Fuck the KKK” and “Nonviolence is still the way to truth” to name a few), and lots of police (we found out later that there were about 2000 there). We passed one group of people who were blocking Constitution so the KKK could not march, their loudspeaker talking about unity, standing together, somebody was holding up a huge peace symbol. We moved up a block, weaving in and out of the throng, and joined another group who were standing on the corner, waiting.
A loudspeaker nearby was blaring out socialist rhetoric and though I agreed with some of what they were saying, I along with our group was very uncomfortable with their militancy and cop-bashing. It did make for some lively discussions among us though. A group of people walked down the street toward us and everyone began to cheer. A young black man told us that it was Mayor Barry’s wife. I thought that was kind of neat. (We found out later on the news that a European tourist had been beaten bloody near us after he had been mistaken for a skinhead. A man was arrested for inciting the crowd against him.) We eavesdropped on a Washington Times reporter who was near us as he talked on a cellular phone and after he left, we decided along with everyone else that the KKK were at the Capitol.
Everyone began running down Constitution Ave. towards the Capitol, breaking through the lines of police who tried in vain to stop us. There were just too many people. As we walked, we could hear the sirens as the police rushed to get to the Capitol before us to set up another police line. They did and nobody got close. We were standing right next to the line about 50 yards away from the main group of protesters when a group of black (and some white) youths came up behind the police line and tried to break it so that the protesters could get through. There was a sudden surge in the crowd, one man hit a cop, and was immediately slammed to the ground and arrested. Then people started running toward us away from the police and most of our group panicked and started to run.
I don’t know why I did what I did, but I stood firm and shouted, “No! Don’t run! Don’t run!” So then no one ran and we stood real close together and held on to each other. The crowd calmed and returned to their places. We backed up a few feet and kept backing up until we were across the street and could observe from a distance. Immediately, the tension in the air decreased. We could see lots of bottles and rocks being thrown and there were several more surges in the crowd, each one making my heart jump into my throat, but nothing happened. People were out for blood and when they realized that they were not going to see the KKK, they took out their frustrations on the police.
In a little while, the people with the “peaceful” loudspeaker came on and said that 50 KKK had been bussed by the police to the Capitol, had held a short rally, and then had left. They announced that we had won and thanked us for coming. We cheered along with everyone and then we went home. Whew!
I am sure that if the KKK would have been allowed to march, they would have been killed or seriously injured and the police would not have been able to protect them. I was very impressed with the way the police handled the situation. Their plan was to keep the protestors and the KKK as far away from each other as possible and it worked. Several times, it looked like we were on the verge of a riot but somehow the police were able to calm things down. The tear gas guns were cocked, but they never went off. There were eight injuries, four of which were police, and four or five arrests. That’s a lot better than 1982.
Why do we hate the KKK so much? There are good reasons, but I wonder if they make us so angry because they put out in the open what we hide inside. Perhaps we see our secret prejudices and racism reflected in them. It’s a thought.
Everyone claimed victory, but I think, counting the police, we were the real winners. It seemed to me that the KKK did just the opposite of what they wanted to do. They brought black and white people together. Fifty of them stood on the steps of the Capitol and preached to no one then got in their buses and went back south. The Invisible Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were exactly that, invisible.
And we realized again the power people can have and what we can accomplish when we work together. We have a ways to go and there’s lots more to do, but it’s a start.