Several groups who took credit for helping to organize last week's anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstrations, which turned into a violent confrontation between protesters and police, yesterday characterized the protest as a "victory for the people" despite instances of looting and rock-throwing.
At a forum sponsored by an organization known as People Against Racism and the Klan, leaders of the three groups also contended that the violence has been distorted by local media and claimed it has caused divisions within the black community.
"We must understand that it was a victory . . . it was that crowd of anti-Klan demonstrators that turned around a potential message of hatred and racism," said Niana Kilkenny of the National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee, referring to the fact that only about 30 Klansmen showed up for a brief rally at Lafayette Square. D.C. police did not allow the Klan to march down Pennsylvania Avenue as planned.
Kilkenny and another organizer, Steve Rollins of the D.C. Chapter of the Black United Front, had especially harsh words for the U.S. Park Police, who Rollins said provoked the crowd into a violent melee by protecting the Klan, and then "left the District police to receive the wrath of the demonstrators."
Police, who exploded several canisters of tear gas and arrested 30 people during the disturbance, have consistently blamed the anti-Klan protesters for inciting the violence.
The groups also criticized city officials, including Mayor Marion Barry, a former civil rights activist, for allowing the Klan to obtain a permit to march, and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, who said the anti-Klan demonstrators merely succeeded in winning the Klan additional publicity.
Kilkenny also criticized the city's "old-line civil rights leadership" who she said did not adequately challenge the Klan's presence in D.C. and instead chose to mark the event by distributing food to the poor.
But the Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, said that the food giveaways at 46 churches throughout the city helped reduce the potential for violence.
"I am certain that because of these activities, the anger, frustration and discontent of thousands of the city's unemployed and needy citizens were not available downtown to be ignited into a community-wide display of violence," Gibson said.
Rollins said "a few opportunists in the community" were partly to blame for the looting that occurred at several stores on Vermont Avenue, 14th and K streets NW. But, Rollins insisted, the violence and looting were directly tied to public frustration over unemployment and cutbacks in social programs. "The government at all levels is responsible for what happened on Nov. 27," Rollins said.
Kilkenny added that the merchants themselves were partly at fault for failing to lobby against the Klan's permit to march.
The People Against Racism and the Klan, the sponsors of yesterday's forum, said their organization represents a coalition of about 100 small local groups that banded together last month to oppose the Klan rally. About 25 people attended yesterday's forum.