Police cite investigation responsibility
Controversy continues to swirl around the recent Ku Klux Klan effort to recruit in Storm Lake.
This week, police find themselves on the receiving end of sharp criticism from the Iowa branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims they have no right to investigation the KKK representatives.
Police officials argue that the community expects them to ensure its safety. Meanwhile, one supposed representative of the KKK said that the recruiting effort has found success.
After KKK promotional material was handed out in retail parking lots in Storm Lake last week, police officials said that the action was not illegal, but that they were investigating into the identity of the persons responsible.
To Ben Stone, director of the Iowa ACLU, that decision was a red flag.
"It's not real complicated - we are expressing concern that your police are to some degree investigating people who authorities themselves admit have committed no crime," Stone told the Pilot-Tribune.
He said the Klan should be treated no different than a cub scout troop would be if it were handing out flyers in a parking lot.
"The police should not be risking intimidation to investigate into people who are not suspects. It is one thing to be aware of what has happened, but another to dig into someone's records and question people about them," Stone said.
At this time, the ACLU does not plan to attempt any action against Storm Lake Police, or the department in Denison where a similar situation has taken place.
"Representatives of the KKK were not the ones that came to us. We would not have any action unless there was a plaintiff," Stone said.
The ACLU leader added that his group does not condone the messages of the Ku Klux Klan, but does defend its right to express its views.
"They have that right - that applies to anyone, from anti-abortion activists to war protesters," Stone said. "This isn't about the Klan, it is about free speech for all people."
There is a better way for the community to express its feelings about the KKK, he suggests.
"What really needs to be done is for the people of Storm Lake, and the people of Denison to raise their own voice as communities, and tell these people who have distributed Klan information that they do not reflect the kind of values that people hold in Storm Lake," Stone said. "The way to respond to people who offend you is to raise your own voice and create an alternative viewpoint.
"If in 2006 people in northwest Iowa reject the ideas being represented by the Klan, they should be saying so."
In another recent case in Iowa, people were throwing anti-immigrant propaganda onto people's lawns, Stone said. "There were some pretty despicable things expressed in those flyers. In that case the faith community - and the ACLU - worked together to answer with a statement of solidarity against racist views," Stone said.
For a community to instead allow its police force to investigate people they do not agree with on the basis that it might someday be possible for those people to think about being involved in crime would be a chilling choice, Stone said.
Storm Lake Public Safety Director Mark Prosser says that he respects the opinion of the ACLU. "I hope they would also respect our opinion that we feel it is important to check into any group with a history of violence and disrupting of communities," he said.
Prosser said police have never claimed the KKK was breaking any laws in Storm Lake, nor has it questioned the group's freedom of speech, but said that investigation is continuing with a goal to prevent any unfortunate incidents or criminal activity in the city in the future.
"We want to insure that members of this particular organization or people who might consider joining it, as well as members of the ethnic populations and all others who live in or visit this community can be confident of having a safe environment to be in," Prosser said.
He declined to comment on the findings of the investigation to date.
Anti-diversity sentiments are not isolated to Storm Lake this season.
Lake View city officials said that a swastika had been painted on a water tower in Wall Lake, and rumors of a KKK float for a community celebration were circulating. The KKK has also done recruiting in Denison, another city with an influx of ethnic minority workers.