How Steve Conrad and Cindy Shain kept Louis Coleman and the Klan from fighting [Opinion: The Arena]

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The Ku Klux Klan

Last week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the appointment of veteran Louisville police officer Steve Conrad as the new Chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department.  Mayor Fischer stressed the value of Conrad’s experience in Louisville, noting that “Steve knows how to pronounce ‘Dumesnil.’”

Steve Conrad WDRB2.jpgWe thought we’d take this opportunity to take readers on a little stroll down memory lane, to give them an outstanding example of the fact that Steve Conrad knows a good deal more about policing in this town than merely the correct pronunciation of street names.  Steve Conrad and Cindy Shain designed a new form of crowd control for Louisville that was so clever and effective that it earned kudos from a panel of federal judges.

In the Spring of 1996—16 years ago—a fellow named Christopher Johnson, who identified himself as the “Grand Klaliff of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” telephoned the Louisville Police Department and indicated that the Klan planned to conduct a “public speaking forum” on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse, on Saturday, April 13, 1996, from 12 noon to 3 p.m.

shain1a.jpgLieutenant Colonel Cynthia Shain, the Deputy Chief of Operations for the LMPD, then sat down with Major Steve Conrad, and discussed ways to guarantee the Klan its First Amendment Rights, while at the same time enforcing civic order in downtown Louisville, and making sure that the 20 to 30 robed Klansmen expected at the rally would not create a spark that would spread violence around town.

Shain and Conrad learned that several local civil rights organizations, coordinated by the Rev. Louis Coleman—an African–American minister—were planning a “Unity Rally” in opposition to the Klan demonstration.  Coleman obtained a permit from Jefferson County to conduct a rally at Jefferson Square, located across Jefferson Street from the courthouse, on the same day as the Klan gathering. Coleman’s permit approved rally hours of 10 a.m. through 1 p.m.; thus overlapping the Klan rally for at least one hour (noonLouis Coleman bullhorn.jpg through 1 p.m.).

The Louisville Police came up with an ingenious plan to allow both groups to conduct their rallies in close proximity to one another, while insuring a minimal amount of friction.  First, they subjected all participants to mandatory magnetometer searches as a prerequisite to admission either to the KKK rally or the counter-demonstration.  Next, the plan developed by Shain and Conrad provided for the installation of portable barriers to maintain physical segregation of the KKK rally and the counter-demonstration; preventing attendees’ simultaneous discourse with other attendees at both events.

kkk-confed-flag.jpgFinally, the police excluded all private citizens from a police-occupied buffer zone within inner perimeter of restricted area constructed as part of security measures taken for the rally and the counter-demonstration; specifically disallowing any unscheduled oration within the restricted area.

The Klan rally and counter-demonstration came off with little confrontation—and no physical violence—to the general satisfaction of all parties.  But shortly before the rally, a group of downtown business tenants filed a federal § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against Jefferson County and the City of Louisville; alleging that the creation and implementation of emergency crowd control plan violated their free speech and association rights and obstructed their engagement in interstate commerce.

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