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THE KLAN AND THE BLACK PANTHERS GET TOGETHER IN JASPER, TEXAS

Somewhat over dressed for the East Texas summer heat, this man stands with the Klan during the June 27 rally.

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The death of James Byrd, Jr. was a tragedy for the whole community of Jasper, Texas. He was dragged behind a pickup truck for two and half miles along a country road on June 7. This not only killed him, but mutilated his body spreading his remains along the route.

Three arrests were made within a day. Some of the suspects in custody are alleged to have white racist ties dating back to their prison stays. This put the murder into the hate crime category.

To add insult to an already injured town, members of the Ku Klux Klan decided to hold a rally on the courthouse lawn in Jasper. The reason, according to Klan leaders, was to protest the killing.

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Klan members stand on the Jasper courthouse lawn while their leaders speak.

The New Black Panther Party, not to be out done, announced they too would go to Jasper. They were not going to rally, but to ensure the safety of black residents living in the area. During the announcement, they also mentioned they intended to bring their guns.

The town braced for all out war. On the evening before the June 27 rally, the local police secured a nine square block area around the court house. Barricades went up and businesses closed early with signs announcing they would be closed on Saturday.

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One of the armed men that showed up to support the local black community.

The rally came off with out any bloodshed. It is a tribute to the community that the vast majority of local residents stayed home. In fact, the Media out numbered everyone there by a factor of three. Only a hand full of black residents attended saying they had to show the Klan they were not afraid.

The Panthers wanted to attend the rally but were turned away from the barricades twice. The police told them they had failed to get a permit to rally and could not enter as a group. With a half hour to go, the panthers reappeared fully armed and marched past a group of Jasper police officers like they werenít even there.

The officers radioed ahead informing command officers at the court house armed Black Panthers were coming their way. The county judge pulled the permit early and ordered the Klan into the courthouse. In doing so, he probably avoided a very ugly scene. In my opinion that was the best call of the entire situation.

For the most part, the local residents and merchants of Jasper were understanding, friendly and helpful during our stay. The Texas Department of Public Safety officers and Texas Rangers were professional, courteous and friendly at all times.

Unfortunately, some of the local police and residents were down right hostile. Sheriffís deputies laughed out loud over the phone when we asked to hire someone off duty for security around the uplink trucks the night before the rally. The sign in the store that said, ďNo Media, Donít AskĒ summed up the attitudes of this small minority.

The Jasper police ordered us around like recruits in boot camp. Camera crews were chased off public sidewalks. Some were threatened with arrest when they tried to assert their right to be there. Satellite trucks were ordered to move without warning just minutes before live shots. It became so bad that many of us fled to the safety of the post office for a base of operations. The local authorities could not order us around while we were on federal grounds.

On a personal note I want to thank the Jasper Police Department for towing my satellite truck away from the court house on Thursday night. Iím certain it was done to preserve the public safety and in no way was an attempt to hassle or harass the media. Iíve learned my lesson and shall never use a legal parking space to obstruct a stop sign again.

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Our safe haven from the local police department. Itís a shame that anyone engaged in a completely lawful and constitutionally protected activity should have to flee to federal property in order to do their jobs without interference.

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Have Satellite Truck, Will Travel - Jasper, Texas Klan Rally
Last updated: 8-11-98
 
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