Children heading to school Friday morning in an upstate New York community found something curious at the end of their driveways: Ziploc bags filled with Klu Klux Klan recruitment flyers — and candy. An investigation ordered by New York’s governor is now underway to determine who left the bags and any potential ties to hate crimes.
“They come between 4 and 6 in the morning so the candy bars and packets are at the end of the driveway when kids are getting on the school bus,” Denise Szarek, a school board member in the town of Westmoreland told CNN.
“The community they hit was a mobile home park so there were a lot of kids in the area, and they hit on some of the side roads, too.”
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the dropped materials in a statement Friday, describing “printed information about the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” That same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered state police to investigate the materials and organize a town hall to discuss local concerns, his office announced.
“New York has zero tolerance for intolerance,” Cuomo said in a statement.
But, in a follow-up statement also issued Friday, Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol stressed that “the leaving of these flyers and soliciting people to join the KKK is their right.”
“I believe in unity and tolerance. The KKK is against all of those things,” Maciol said. “However, with that said, I have taken an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens, which, however repulsive, includes the KKK.”
While flyers soliciting readers to join the KKK are protected as free speech, the sheriff said, any future solicitations toward unlawful acts would draw criminal charges. Such acts would include hate crimes, the focus of Cuomo’s ordered investigation and awareness campaign.
State police will investigate the spread of KKK materials in Oneida County and similar instances in other New York counties, the announcement said, while increasing patrols in those areas and determining whether the materials are tied to hate crimes. State police will offer access to its intelligence on the matter to local law enforcement agencies, too.
The state police’s Hate Crimes Task Force will organize a town hall in Oneida County to discuss citizens’ rights and how to report hate crimes, part of a larger public awareness campaign, according to the governor’s office.