A Ku Klux Klan member is protesting his treatment by police and a judge after his arrest and conviction this week in eastern North Carolina. The charge: littering.
Maryland resident Justin Adams, a member of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said he was in Roxboro on April 27 to attend a Klan rally the following day. Adams said he was slipping Klan fliers against drug use and Jews under car windshield wipers in a downtown parking lot when a police officer appeared.
“As soon as he seen the flier, he said, ‘I can get you for littering,’ “ Adams said Friday. “He literally grabbed me in a split second and put me over the hood of the car.”
Adams, 36, a landscaper who said he’s from Hagerstown, Md., said he was arrested and spent three hours in a holding cell before being released on $500 bond. He said he has distributed Klan literature in Maryland and other states without getting arrested.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Adams claims his right of free speech was under attack in the arrest and conviction Thursday.
Roxboro police Chief David Hess said Friday he has “no indication” that Adams’ account is accurate, saying it wouldn’t be consistent with his department’s policies or the officer’s record.
“We support anyone invoking their constitutional rights, but we do not condone the message of the Ku Klux Klan and we have demonstrated that in years past, and we will continue to enforce the laws as appropriate,” Hess said.
Asked if another group distributing fliers in the same way would have been charged, Hess said “every situation is unique and we have to look at the totality of the circumstance.”
On Thursday, Adams returned to Person County to plead not guilty to the charge. He said Chief District Judge Mark Galloway, who heard the case, talked of past trouble with Klan members and “said he was going to make an example of me.”
“The judge seemed totally biased toward me for something some other Klans did,” Adams said. He said he will appeal his conviction and $1,000 fine, the maximum allowed for a first offense of littering.
A recording of the court appearance contradicts Adams in part. Galloway said he can’t comment on a case over which he presided.
In court, according to the recording, Galloway said he’d recently tried a case involving two other out-of-state Klan members who’d gotten into a fight. He drew a parallel with civil rights protests from his own past.
Decades ago, Klan members “had come to help us understand how we need to lead our lives,” the judge said. “The phrase that comes to mind from my youth, when Klansmen were walking in towns in uniforms, and others were demonstrating for different purposes, the phrase I always heard was … out-of-town agitators. That’s what I heard locals say in another day.”
A leader of the Loyal White Knights in North Carolina made news last August when he called a dark-skinned news anchor for Univision by the N-word and said the group would “burn ... out” Hispanic immigrants.
As he sentenced Adams, Galloway again referred to the area’s past history with the Klan.
“I need it to be known that ... this man didn’t do it, but someone else wasted a perfectly good spray can to write ‘KKK’ and a slogan or two on the courthouse square in (nearby) Yanceyville,” he said. “Your client has made his choice and I’m going to do what I can to … let others know that that’s not a good choice for others to make.”
The recording reflects no comments from the judge about “making an example” of Adams, whom he wished the best at the end of the exchange even though “we come from a different mindset.”
But Adams, who said he has been a member of the Loyal White Knights for two years, said he intends to appeal his fine and has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s North Carolina office didn’t respond to a request for comment. Adams’ Person County lawyer didn’t return an Observer call.
“To me, the judge was biased against me, he shouldn’t have referred to a (Klan) fight in the past,” Adams said. Other groups, including the Nation of Islam and Black Lives Matter activists, also distribute literature, he added.
“What’s the difference between the Klan passing out a flier and any other group passing out fliers?”