MORE THAN a thousand people turned out to protest the right of a pathetic band of misfits and haters to march up Constitution Avenue Sunday. The march consisted of two-dozen hatemongers all dressed up in shiny robes and pointy hats that made the effort look like a ludicrous pre-Halloween parade. If they had been greeted with silence, signs or laughter it would have been fitting and more in the way of recognition than they deserved. Instead, unfortunately, the demonstrators made a big deal of the occasion and turned things bloody.
Because of the threat of violence, a tremendous force of police was assembled. Two thousand D.C. police officers, 800 U.S. Capitol police and 325 Park Police, who were there to prevent trouble, bore the brunt of the demonstrators' wrath. Eight D.C. officers were injured -- at least one seriously -- by flying rocks and bricks, and property, including a number of police cars, was destroyed. Did the rock throwers think it was their duty to attack the marchers and the men and women who were trying to protect the marchers and to keep the peace?
At the end of the afternoon, D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood, understandably upset because a number of his officers had been injured, criticized U.S. District Court Judge Louis Oberdorfer, who has upheld the Klan's request for a march permit. The blame was misplaced. Judge Oberdorfer has an obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of despised Klansmen; the Constitution doesn't condition the right on the content of the speech.
But it is undoubtedly true that the police could have used a lot more community support in preparing for Sunday. The next time a group like the Klan comes to town, political figures, church leaders and school officials could make a special effort to discuss the meaning of free speech with their constituencies, to isolate agitators and troublemakers and to organize peaceful counterdemonstrations modeled after those led by revered and successful civil rights leaders of the past. Violence is not the answer to the Klan. The best way to shame the hooded haters is to respond with dignity, self-assured pride and confidence in the Constitution and those dedicated to protecting it.