ASHLAND — The placing of a Ku Klux Klan newspaper on a mixed-race family’s driveway Thursday has triggered an investigation by the Boyd County Sheriff’s Office.
Boyd County Sheriff Bobby Jack Woods confirmed a deputy responded to the report on the Boyd County side of a Bellefonte-area neighborhood at around 9 a.m. Thursday. The family later posted the copy of “The Crusader” — a quarterly publication published by the Knights Party, a descendant of the David Duke faction of the KKK — onto social media.
The Daily Independent, a sister newspaper of The Times-Tribune, attempted to reach the family, but could not speak with them in time for publication.
Woods has termed the placing of the newspaper on their driveway “a hate crime,” because no other house in the predominantly white neighborhood received one.
“They appeared to have been targeted,” Woods said. “This was at the edge of Bellefonte on a dead-end street. You had to know where you’re going to get there.”
After reviewing footage from a neighbor’s home camera and recanvassing the neighborhood, Woods said his department hasn’t gotten any leads on the case. Teresa Cremeans, a resident on the Greenup County side of Bellefonte, provided evidence to The Daily Independent showing an edition of the same newspaper had been distributed in the neighborhood in July 2019.
Cremeans stated she alerted local media and authorities about it, but nothing ever happened of it.
Boyd-Greenup NAACP President Al Baker said he was disappointed in the act.
“I hate that,” Baker said. “It seems like we’re going backwards. This is a reason why we need to sit down and talk about our differences.”
Austin Johnson, a South Point native involved in area protests, said he found it “a disturbing act of hate.”
“We all know it’s around us,” Johnson said. “This is a plain disgusting act. People know racism is alive and well in this area.”
The FBI has been keeping tabulations on hate crimes since the 1990s, after George H.W. Bush signed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. The numbers are incorporated into the Uniform Crime Report, which is comprised of self-reported statistics from law enforcement agencies across the country.
Over a 15-year period ending in 2018, the UCR numbers show at least 34 hate crimes reported to the FBI by agencies in Boyd County. In looking at the numbers, The Daily Independent chose not to incorporate figures provided by Kentucky State Police Post 14 because that agency covers three counties in addition to Boyd — therefore, the number could be higher.
Over that same period, the Commonwealth saw about 2,300 hate crimes reported to the FBI — Louisville and Lexington, the two largest population centers in the state, did not begin reporting hate crimes until 2012, the reports indicate.
Most hate crimes reported in the state appear to cluster around those population centers, as well as northern Kentucky.
Over the years as sheriff, Woods said he can’t think of any other hate crime that has been brought to his attention. While his department has reported crimes coded as hate crimes to the FBI, it’s a matter of a deputy checking a box, the sheriff said.
“I don’t remember any that were brought to my attention, but that doesn’t mean a deputy didn’t code a crime like that,” Woods said. “In my personal opinion, there’s a difference between two neighbors, one black and one white, getting into a fistfight over a property dispute and two neighbors, one black and one white, getting into it over a racial slur.”
The FBI defines a hate crime as “a committed criminal offense which is motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
Chief Todd Kelley, of the Ashland Police Department, said on the beat-cop level, there are 34 boxes for an officer to check.
“When you look at, say, religion, you don’t just have a box for a crime motivated by religion. You have a box for anti-Buddhist, anti-Muslim ... it’s very detailed,” Kelley said. “Officers are trained to make that determination based off the victim’s statement and other evidence collected in the investigation.”
In 2018, the latest year for the FBI figures, APD reported three hate crimes in its jurisdiction. Kelley said out of the thousands of reports his officers take every year, that’s a fairly low number.
A lot of the reporting is based on victim cooperation, Kelley said.
“It’s all about what the victim advises,” he said. “We might have a drug deal gone wrong between a white person and a black person, that’s not necessarily a hate crime. But if you have a Jewish person assaulted because of their Jewish faith, then it is a hate crime.”
Johnson said he believes hate crimes are a product of racial issues in society.
“People of color know and are used to experiencing it, whether it is a slur or an assault,” he said. “The thing is, it’s normalized. It’s become a social norm. I have friends in the Boyd County school system who had to move from the schools because of the crap they were being called in the hallways.”
According to a 2019 report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the hate crime numbers reported by police are an undercount — the report stated the National Criminal Victimization Survey showed almost 211,000 hate crimes were reported by respondents to the survey between 2014 and 2016. During that same period, agencies across the country reported about 7,100 hate crimes to the FBI. The NCVS attempts to collect crimes that are not always reported to police.
Baker said from where he sits at the NAACP, it’s not a concern brought up to his organization.
“We rarely get complaints, so one of things we’re working on is getting better documentation from when something happens,” he said. “I’ll hear about something after the fact, but we don’t see a complaint.”
Boyd County Commonwealth Attorney Rhonda Copley said in Kentucky, the hate crime statute isn’t a separate charge. Instead, it’s a consideration a judge can use following a trial.
“On average, we look at the code about once or twice a year,” Copley said. “With most charges, you don’t have to prove a motive. With this, we have to prove on a preponderance of evidence to the judge that it was the primary motive.”
If the crime is most likely motivated by a prejudice, the judge can adjudicate a hate crime. Once adjudicated as such, the convicted cannot receive probation, conditional discharge and shock probation, per the code. Once having received that designation, the parole board can consider denying requests for early release, the code states.
Like hate crimes, hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis tend to cluster around major urban centers in the state, according to numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization has tracked the ebbs and flows of hate groups since the 1980s.
Since the 1960s, Klan groups have fractured into multiple factions — some dying off entirely, others merging into one another to stay afloat. Overall, according to the SPLC, the Klan has lost ground to other bigoted ideologies such as Nazism.
Of Klan groups, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are one of the most organized and publicly facing ones, according to the SPLC.
“The Knights have tried to stay relevant by changing the terminology they use, not donning white robes and hoods and frequently publishing videos and news articles,” an SPLC wrote in a statement.
Based out of a compound in Harrison, Arkansas, the Knights Party publishes “The Crusader.” People either receive the publication upon membership to the hate group or buy in bulk from an online store.
The SPLC does not show any local chapters of the group operating in the area.
Law enforcement officials in the area have stated they have not received any word about KKK activity in this corner of Kentucky. However, Chief Kelley did note the Knights have been sending a copy of their paper to his police department.
“They have a section in there where they try to recruit law enforcement officers. So I guess they have our address and they keep sending it,” he said.
Woods said his agency doesn’t receive a copy of it, but he does get a letter occasionally from a gentleman in Missouri starting a militia.
“I can’t even tell you his name,” he said. “I just chuck it in the trash.”
The SPLC shows various hate groups have set up shop in the area since 2000, but none have stuck around long. In 2009, the North America White Knights of the KKK were reported to be operating in Tollesboro, while a chapter of the Confederate White Knights of KKK set up shop in Morehead in 2015, per the SPLC.
Across the river in Ohio, the SPLC reported a racist skinhead chapter in Portsmouth between 2005 and 2007, as well as a Ku Klos Knights of the KKK chapter in Wheelersburg in 2015.
While hateful, bigoted ideas may appeal to some in the area, Johnson said he believes his generation may be the one to change that.
“We might see backlash from the old ways, the old thoughts, but Generation Z isn’t going to stand for it,” he said. “Our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents did a lot, but they didn’t truly change things. I think it’s up to my generation to stand up and show we’re not going to tolerate racism.”
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If you have any information regarding this investigation, call the Boyd County Sheriff’s Office at (606) 739-5135. If you have been a victim of a racially motivated crime or know of any similar situations and would like to share your story, contact reporter Henry Culvyhouse at email@example.com or editor Aaron Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call (606) 326-2664.