GRESHAM, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Don Ballantyne opened his door Friday morning to an unsettling piece of mail: an invitation to join the Ku Klux Klan.
Was he the only one who had received this, he wondered? Was he being targeted?
He was not, but it didn’t put his mind at ease at all to drive around his Gresham Butte neighborhood at 7 a.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and saw the letter was also on about 90 percent of his neighbor’s doorsteps. It was the same as what he received, a piece of white paper neatly folded in thirds and placed in a plastic bag accompanied by a root beer-flavored candy.
The Gresham Butte neighborhood is bounded on the northwest by where Eastman Parkway and the Springwater Trail intersect with Towle Road, and on the south at Southwest 20th Court.
“At first it was almost unbelievable,” Ballantyne said. “I really was in disbelief. I can’t believe this is in our neighborhood, in our state.”
This story first appeared on the Portland Tribune, a media partner with KOIN 6 News.
The KKK is a white supremacist group with a long and not-so-distant violent history. According to the organization’s website, the group’s mission is to “unite White Christians through the bond of the brotherhood and aid their awareness of the problems facing the country.”
The organization is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, and has since grown to speak against all kinds of bigotry.
Some of the most extreme acts of KKK-led violence include the 1951 Christmas Eve bombing of the home of activists for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); the 1963 bombing of a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which killed four black girls; and the 1967 bombings in Jackson, Miss., targeting and killing a Methodist activist and a Jewish rabbi.
Klan members are often associated with the wearing of white robes and conical hats and in the past held parades and cross burnings.
Gresham police officer Malaka Kerbs, a black woman and one of five rotating public information officers for the police department, said there was nothing threatening about the invitation, and its distribution is protected as free speech under the First Amendment, so police are not taking action.
Kerbs said she and other officers discussed whether to make a statement ahead of media inquiries about the letters, but ultimately decided against giving the KKK more attention.
“What can you do?” Kerbs asked. “It doesn’t offend me at all. Maybe if I weren’t doing this job I might be offended, but when I put on the uniform I get called lots of names. You get used to it. I don’t like what you’re saying, but you are exercising one of the liberties we have in this country.”
Kerbs said she initially “chuckled” when she saw the invite because she, one of only two black police officers in Gresham, was the assigned public information officer on Friday.
She imagined a situation where she went on television to discuss the letter, as public information officers are often called upon to do.
“They’re going to think we put the only black officer on,” Kerbs said, of a hypothetical TV interview. “I’m the only PIO working, and I just happen to be black. What do you do with that? You just kind of smile.”
Kerbs encouraged residents not to give the letter much thought.
“Why give it the energy? Just throw it out,” Kerbs advised. “We all know there are Americans that are unhappy with how things are and they are going to make it race related, gender related, whatever their agenda is, they are going to make it specific to them.”
Ballantyne, the Gresham Butte resident, not only alerted Gresham police to the letter, but he also visited http://www.NextDoor.com where he posted a message about the letter. The site in an Internet-based forum for neighborhoods.
Dozens of neighbors chimed in with their own shocked reactions.
“Disgusting!” one woman wrote. “Please be extra observant and help guard our neighbors and the community from possible hate crimes.”
Another man wrote, “I for one would like to believe this is a prank by some really disturbed individuals, and not funny.”
Yet another woman wrote, “It’s terrible we still have this kind of hate in our country.”