CHICAGO, Dec. 18 (JTA) – Ignoring the advice of clergy and community leaders, about 400 protesters showed up at a Ku Klux Klan rally here over the weekend that ended in a series of skirmishes between police and counterdemonstrators.
Police kept an angry crowd 500 yards away from the approximately 20 Klan members during 45 minutes of anti-Jewish and anti-African American speeches at Saturday’s rally in Skokie.
Violence broke out at the end of the rally as some protesters confronted police and Klan members. Police arrested 20 individuals.
Although observers said members of the Jewish Defense League were present at the rally, it is not known if any were involved in the violence or were arrested.
The organization had released a statement several weeks ago threatening to use force if necessary to prevent the KKK from assembling.
On Sunday, meanwhile, more than 1,200 people showed up at a “Peace and Harmony Rally” designed to denounce hate and celebrate diversity.
Chicago-area Jewish community leaders and rabbis had urged everyone to stay away from the KKK rally – being held on Shabbat – and come to the Peace and Harmony Rally instead.
Jay Tcath, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said he and other leaders were disappointed by the brouhaha at the rally because it gave Klan members the publicity they were seeking.
Urging people to ignore the rally this time around “was not meant as a submission to hate groups, but rather as an effort to further isolate them,” Tcath said.
“Without the counterdemonstrators and the violence they helped to spark, the Saturday rally would have been a blurb in the media,” he said.
Instead, the rally and its aftermath led the evening news on every local station Saturday night, complete with images of protesters attacking squad cars and pelting police with snowballs.
An unidentified protester said many were angry that the police were protecting the right of KKK members to speak.
In addition to the skirmishes that broke out between protesters and police, protesters fought with a group of skinheads at the end of the rally.
Skokie police were also investigating a report that a group of young men had assaulted an African-American woman after the rally.
Police arrested nine people on charges that included possession of a firearm and assault on a police officer. Cook County sheriff’s police arrested 10 people for disorderly conduct and one for criminal damage to property.
The Wisconsin-based KKK chapter had applied months ago for a permit to rally on the steps of the Cook County Courthouse in this suburb on Chicago’s North Shore, reviving memories for some residents of a planned neo-Nazi march that was to take place in Skokie in 1978.
After much legal wrangling and national publicity, a small group of neo-Nazis marched that year but stayed out of Skokie, which has a large Jewish population.
At the Peace and Harmony Rally, rabbis, priests and political officials spoke from the stage of a local high school to denounce violence and hate.
Among them was Sherialyn Byrdsong, the widow of Ricky Byrdsong, the former Northwestern University basketball coach who was killed in July 1999 by white supremacist Benjamin Smith.
Byrdsong received a standing ovation when she said, “There is no place in America, and especially not here in Skokie, Ill., where the message of racial superiority and hate is welcome.”