‘Free’ speech gets drowned out … good!

They called themselves the “Free Speech Movement.” They planned to stage a big rally in Boston, but got drowned out by others who were having none of what this movement had to say.

The “Free Speech” folks said they disavowed the hate speech that’s become the talk of the nation. But thousands of counter protesters showed up to swallow up the “Free Speech” crowd.

It appears that advance knowledge of some of the speakers slated to talk alarmed community residents, which triggered the big counter protest. They were concerned about what they considered to be “veiled bigotry.” One big difference between this gathering and the one that erupted in Charlottesville this past weekend is that no one got hurt; there was no riot.

This all sounds familiar to yours truly.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan came to Amarillo to have a rally in front of City Hall. The city granted the KKK the permit they needed. The police came out in force. Amarillo PD deployed many officers, as did the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The police set up an effective barrier that kept the crowd of onlookers away from the Klansmen.

At the moment the Klan leaders were set to start addressing the gathering in front of City Hall, a parade of counter protesters came marching onto the parking lot. They were loud, man! They were banging cymbals, blowing horns, beating drums, yelling at the top of their lungs.

I don’t recall, 11 years later, what the Klan’s message was on that warm summer day. The haters couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

I couldn’t have been prouder of the way our community reacted to the Klan’s presence in our midst.

The most fascinating encounter I witnessed occurred right next to me. It involved then-Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal and a Klan member. Neal was there in full cop regalia: dress blues and all the hardware that beat cops wear when they’re on patrol … if you get my drift. The Klansman asked the chief, “Can I ask you something?”

Neal’s response was brusque and right to the point: “No. You can’t. Now, get away from me.”

What happened today in Boston had plenty of precedent. It should continue for as long as hate groups — or those aligned with them — believe they have license to spread their bigoted message.

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