The city of Memphis has issued a permit in response to the application of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to hold a rally March 30. Police Director Toney Armstrong reviewed and approved the application.
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City leaders say their hands were tied as the rally is a First Amendment issue regardless of the hate speech the group promotes.
In a news conference Tuesday, Director Armstrong said the city is ready to handle the Easter weekend Klan demonstration, which was sparked by city council's decision to rename three Confederate parks.
"We'll be more than prepared," he said.
The KKK will hold their demonstration downtown between 1:30-4 p.m., in front of Shelby County General Sessions Court at 140 Adams Ave.
Armstrong said he would "rather approve the permit for a KKK rally than deal with an unauthorized event."
"Certainly the personal part of me would much rather say, 'You know, go an hold your rally somewhere else,'" Director Armstrong said. "But at the end of the day they'll come here and get their 15 minutes and we'll send them out of here first thing in the morning."
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The city changed how the Klan will be able to demonstrate, making the restrictions that no masks or no weapons will be allowed. The streets around the courthouse will be shut down and when people come into the area police will be searching them for weapons.
Armstrong said his officers are already going through additional riot training to handle the anticipated crowd, and prevent the violence that took place the last time the Klan rallied in January 1998.
The city's police department will also ask other Mid-South law enforcement agencies for assistance.
"I don't foresee any problems, however with that said we will be prepared for anything," Director Armstrong added, predicting law enforcement will outnumber the Klan at the Easter weekend rally.
The city doesn't have a figure on how much the security will cost and they're not requiring the Klan to pay anything before the rally.
Though the city has allowed the Klan to exercise their First Amendment rights, Mayor A C Wharton is urging his citizens to ignore the hate group.
"I'm appealing to all of our residents there's so much more that's going on in Memphis," Mayor Wharton said. "Let's just make this a non-event as far as the 670,000, well the million folks of the region. I'll put it that way."
Director Armstrong is unsure how many members of the Klan will show up and he says organizers of the March 30 event didn't seem to know either.
"You can see that apparently this is not a very organized organization," the police director said. "You can see there does not appear to be much structure to it. I say that to say I hope that the citizens, our citizens, recognize that and treat it as such."
"Based on Director Armstrong's decision, the Permits Office took appropriate steps earlier today to issue the permit and contact the applicant," said Herman Morris, city attorney. "The Permits Office is a part of the city's Legal Division. We have known from the beginning that denying this application would result in a legal fight on constitutionality that would be long, divisive, expensive, and that would unnecessarily prolong the decision. We have all, however, been very attune to Director Armstrong's review given the critical role the Memphis Police Department will play in a proposed demonstration."
Director Armstrong has talked with Morris and other members of the Wharton administration since the Klan submitted a permit to hold a rally.
"I have been reminded of the legal issues that apply, but in the end, my primary focus is the safety of the public and all involved," the police director said. "It will be in all of our best interest to have a demonstration where we are able to work with this group in setting the do's and don'ts. Right now, my team has a strategy that will ensure everyone's safety. What we absolutely do not want is some unplanned, spontaneous demonstration where my team has not been involved in planning and set-up."
The police director also asked everyone else not affiliated with the rally to not attend.
"I'm certainly praying that our citizens recognize the fact that this is a constitutional right of theirs," Director Armstrong said. "I don't think that we should give credence to it or any validity to it by coming and opposing their views especially in a violent way."
The police department has a plan to deal with this gathering and they know counter protestors will gather at the courthouse. Armstrong said they will be in control of this event and they won't accept any violence from either side.
"I want to encourage Memphians to enjoy their holiday weekend with their family and loved ones, and rest assured that MPD is prepared and we will keep the peace," he added.
FOX13 News reporters Matt Gerien and Les Smith contributed to this report.