Delaware Attorney General Charles M. Oberly 3d is among those who say police went too far to keep the peace and set a disturbing precedent. The NAACP and State Rep. Al O. Plant (D., Wilmington) are calling for investigations, saying the busing amounted to taxpayer-financed chauffeuring of hatemongers.
Newark Police Chief William A. Hogan counters that the busing was the best way to protect the public.
"No way was this decision made to cater to the Klan," Hogan said yesterday. "Representatives of the NAACP talk about the perception of what we did. . . . But there is no doubt in my mind that the rally would have been more difficult to manage (without busing). And I didn't see anybody rushing forward to say, 'I'll take responsibility and relieve the city of liability if anything goes wrong.' "
Hogan said it was his decision to enlist three city-owned buses and three state Department of Corrections buses. The heavily guarded vehicles met the Klan at a secret spot near the Delaware-Maryland state line, then ferried the 105 white-robed members to and from Main Street in Newark.
The NAACP and city and state officials - including the governor - were fully informed, Hogan said.
The Department of Corrections treated the request for assistance as routine, said Henry Risley Jr., chief of prisons.
The decision was reached only after Newark police studied videotapes and reports from police in other places the Klan has paraded.
In West Chester, for example, confrontations occurred in and around the parking lot that the Klan used as a staging area, even though it was fenced and guarded by police in riot gear, Hogan said. In Elkton, Md., "it was chaos as Klan members tried to get back into their vehicles," he said.
Only one person was arrested at the Newark rally, compared with 14 in West Chester.
Hogan wouldn't say how much the busing cost until Newark's City Council sees the figures later this week. The idea of passing the cost on to the Klan was explored, he said, but lawyers said charging for police protection would be unconstitutional.
He said no one can estimate how much was saved by averting property damage, injury and arrests.
Attorney General Oberly said Hogan's rationale was "hard to fault," but faulty nonetheless.
"I think the wrong message was sent," said Oberly. "I think there is a difference between facilitating a hate group and protecting public safety. If I'm a Klan member, I'm going to go have all the rallies I can because they make it so easy. . . . Why not pick them up at the door?"
Yesterday, Plant introduced a resolution, now in the House of Representatives' Administration Committee, calling for an investigation of the busing decision.
"I want to make sure it never happens again. I think it's very insulting for taxpayers' money to be used to facilitate a group of this sort."
Keith Booker, president of the Wilmington NAACP, agreed. He said NAACP headquarters in Baltimore is researching whether the busing was legal.
Klansmen involved in organizing the march could not be reached for comment.