A bitter dispute over the planned military flyover at Monday's Martin Luther King march has split peace activists, longtime march supporters and East Side community members, and could result in a smaller turnout for what has been the nation's largest MLK march.
Some opponents of the flyover are calling for a boycott of the march, while others plan to attend with bandanas over their mouths and black and yellow ribbons around their arms in a show of protest.
Two fighter jets from the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph AFB will zoom over Pittman-Sullivan Park at noon at the end of the nearly three-mile march from Martin Luther King Drive to Iowa Street.
While some say the flyover will provide a patriotic flair to the march during a time of war, others say it will represent support for the war — something King would not approve of.
The Rev. Herman Price, chairman of the city's MLK Commission, said the flyover was meant to honor King, and he is dismayed by the divisiveness it has caused.
"It all depends on how you look at it," Price said Thursday. "They say the planes represent war and bombs and death, but at the same time those planes can also represent our freedom and peace."
But City Councilwoman Patti Radle, who objected to the flyover in a letter to the editor in Wednesday's Express-News, doesn't see it that way.
"War is a different system working for peace. Martin Luther King was not part of that system," she said.
City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, whose district includes the march route, contented the flyover is exactly what King would have wanted.
"I think that the military plays too significant of a role in our community for us to ignore them and not include them in this march," she said. "They are the reason why we have peace, and this is MLK's peace march."
The dispute has been brewing since November, when someone brought up the idea for a flyover at an MLK Commission meeting. Commissioners voted for a motion to add the flyover, though it's unclear whether the issue was placed on the agenda.
As word of the flyover spread throughout the community, some peace activists became upset and banded together through e-mails and meetings.
Many opponents of the flyover, including Radle, said they might skip the event.
A flier distributed at City Hall on Thursday urged people to boycott the march.
"San Antonio's MLK march, one of the largest in the nation, is absolutely the wrong event for a military flyover," P.C. McKinnon wrote in an e-mail to the Express-News. "Would it have been appropriate to have a flyover at Dr. King's funeral? I think not."
McKinnon said he won't take his family to the march.
Tommy Calvert Jr., an East Side activist, said when he tried to rescind the flyover decision at an MLK commission meeting Monday, Price would not allow it.
"I think I'm going to wear a gag bandana in my mouth since I was not allowed to call a vote on the floor in solidarity with the dozens of people who were there to overturn the vote," Calvert said. "If you're going to honor Dr. King, you have to honor the nonviolent point. It's fundamental."
He added that no one in the peace movement wants to keep the military from marching.
"But a fighter jet is not a soldier," he said. "Dr. King said that you lay down your arms at the table of brotherhood. A fighter jet is an arm."
Jane Tuck, who attended the meeting with Calvert, said she told the group the flyover would be antithetical to the beliefs of King and his work.
Others joined in, and the meeting soon turned sour.
"It got to be a very ugly meeting," said Tuck, a member of a pacifist organization.
© 2006 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News