MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The City of Memphis has approved a demonstration permit filed by the KKK group Loyal White Knights to rally downtown on March 30th.
In a February 26 news release, a spokesperson with the Memphis Police Department stated the decision came "after a review and approval from Police Director Toney Armstrong to proceed."
Director Armstrong remarked, "I’ve been in discussion with the City Attorney and other members of the Administration, and 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." Armstrong explained, "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 rally is being held in response to the Memphis City Council's decision to temporarily rename three city parks: Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park. Council members voted for the changes in response to pending legislation in Nashville that would prohibit the renaming of parks named after war figures, events or groups.
"We may come back and name it after Nathan Bedford Forrest, but we will never let the legislature in Nashville control what we do in Memphis for ourselves," said Councilman Harold Collins following the Feb. 5 vote.
While a member of the Loyal White Knights had stated "thousands" of Klan members were expected to attend the rally, the permit filed by the group estimates only 180 will be in attendance.
Director Armstrong previously stated that while he does not agree with the Ku Klux Klan, he will protect them. ""They have the right to voice their opinions and they have a right to freedom of speech like any other citizens," he said.
City Attorney Herman Morris stated, "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."
However, the permit approval comes with certain conditions. KKK members participating in the rally will not be allowed to wear their iconic hooded masks, nor carry a weapon regardless of whether they have a gun permit. Armstrong told ABC 24 News, "We feel like we've come up with a plan that is going to more than ensure public safety."