On May 25th, our community will be tested: a group of demonstrators from an Indiana-based affiliate of the KKK will be holding a rally downtown at Courthouse Square. From what I’ve seen and heard, people are planning to respond on that day in one of three main ways.
First, there are those who are choosing to avoid the rally entirely. The thinking behind this approach is that since the KKK-group is looking for a confrontation, we’d be wise not to engage with them. In other words, if we engage, we give them precisely what they want.
Second, there are those who intend to respond in an opposite manner—to directly confront the KKK. As I’ve heard it enunciated, the idea is that it doesn’t matter whatsoever if we give the KKK what they want…what matters is fighting injustice when we see it, and the Ku Klux Klan is injustice personified.
Third, there are those staking out a middle path, opting not to ignore the KKK, but also not to directly confront them. Led by the NAACP, these are groups who are planning “positive alternative programming,” a peaceful celebration of our local diversity, in the hopes of denying the KKK the opportunity to frame Dayton’s story on the 25th as one of hate and division.
So, what to do? I would be lying were I to say that I don’t have a preference amongst these three options. All of them reflect our legitimate, emotionally sensitive impulses to respond to a real crisis. In their effects, though, they are not all equal nor necessarily advisable.
In some other world, the second approach—directly confronting the KKK at Courthouse Square—might make sense or be praiseworthy. However, as of now, it isn’t wise to follow it. Courthouse Square will be a powder keg on the 25th. Not only will the KKK be present, but there will likely be thousands of angry counter-protestors there, many bused in from around the region. I trust our local police to ensure Dayton not become the next Charlottesville, but I still wouldn’t recommend someone I loved place themselves in such a situation.
The first approach also may appear attractive, and it is, for what it’s worth, infinitely safer than direct confrontation. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the choice to stay home when a hate group is in town rallying. However, it is worth asking: If the KKK demonstrators will be at Courthouse Square, and if it is unavoidable that large numbers of counter-protestors will be directly confronting them (and such people will be there), then does our choice to stay home actually help us to protect or improve our town?
I think the third approach is the best option we have available to us at this time. If you do not plan to stay home on the 25th and feel like you should be “doing something,” then you should be at the NAACP-led program at McIntosh Park. This program has the support of more than two dozen community partners, including the local government (Mayor Whaley’s office), the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, YWCA Dayton, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. It is worth mentioning, too, that my concerns about safety for this program have been allayed in multiple conversations with local police leadership. I have been assured that law enforcement is monitoring the situation and feels prepared to keep everything safe at McIntosh Park.
However we each choose to respond to the KKK’s visit, this experience certainly constitutes a test of ourselves and our community. It is imperative that we make careful choices to keep ourselves safe; Judaism values the preservation of life above almost anything else. Simultaneously, though, this is a rare moment when our actions and choices very clearly enunciate our values. It is important that we show the world that the KKK may have chosen us, but we never would have chosen them.
Rabbi Ari Ballaban
Jewish Community Relations Council