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Profile: Walter Diggles
Walter Diggles was a participant or observer in the following events:
Local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and New Black Panthers—militant groups that many feel are polar opposites of one another—march in the small town of Jasper, Texas, in response to the recent brutal murder of African-American resident James Byrd by self-avowed white supremacists (see June 7, 1998 and After). Authorities fear the two groups will engage in a physical altercation, but they exchange nothing more than intemperate and sometimes profane rhetoric. Residents did not want either group to march, but their wishes were not heeded; both President Clinton and Governor George W. Bush had asked that the groups refrain from marching, but their wishes, too, were ignored by both groups. Jasper resident Joyce Edmond, an African-American, says, “It’s wrong for either of them to be here.” She echoes the sentiments of many residents by saying that both groups are using Byrd’s murder to gain attention for themselves. Local government official Walter Diggles, an African-American, says of the groups’ rival marches: “It’s the outside coming in and disrupting a community that has been dealing very conscientiously with this situation. It’s a distraction.” The KKK members, mostly from neighboring Vidor and Waco, and the New Black Panthers and Black Muslims, from Dallas and Houston respectively, are surrounded by state troopers wearing face shields and bulletproof vests. Both sides give fiery speeches laced with racial slurs and conspiracy theories. Both sides brought large amounts of weapons, but were prohibited by police from carrying them. One white and one black militant are arrested for disorderly conduct. Several times, the crowd of onlookers laughs derisively at the militants. In a statement, Byrd’s family says: “Let this horrendous violation of the sanctity of life not be a spark that ignites more hatred and retribution. Rather, let this be a wake-up call for America, for all Americans. Let it spark a cleansing fire of self-examination and reflection.” Klan members insist that the march is to distance the organization from Byrd’s murder, and both sides claim they have come to Jasper to protect the community from the other side. [New York Times, 6/27/1998; New York Times, 6/28/1998]
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