As racial antagonism raged in New York City last week over the deaths of a black child and a Jewish man, the African-American Jewish Coalition of Anne Arundel County issued a statement calling on local blacks and Jews to help each other fight racism.
"We're partners to eradicate bigotry. It's pervasive in our city and county. This is not an issue limited to one minority group," Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden said.
The coalition, formed earlier this summer to unite the two communities, has elected officers who are planning a September meeting to concentrate on racial bias in the county in areas such as education and housing.
Elected as co-chairmen last week were Vincent O. Leggett, former executive director of the Anne Arundel Housing Authority and current vice president for the county Board of Education, and Annapolis Jewish leader Donald Aronson.
Two co-treasurers, George Phelps Jr. and Edward Legum -- one black and one Jewish -- also were elected.
Snowden, who helped found the coalition, said: "It's extremelyimportant not only for organizations like this coalition to put out statements to allay fears (aroused by the violence in New York), but elected officials and religious leaders, too, have a responsibility to calm the flames."
The violence in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn began last Monday after a car driven by a Hasidic Jew went out of control onto a sidewalk and struck two 7-year-old black cousins,killing one. After ambulances left the scene, rumors spread that theHasidics received medical treatment before the children.
Residents began throwing rocks and bottles. Shortly before midnight, a 29-year-old Jewish rabbinical student was stabbed to death in what was believed to be a revenge killing.
The area has a history of tension between blacks and members of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect called the Lubavitcher Hasidim. The deaths set off several nights of rioting during which groups threw bottles and rocks at each other and battled police. Crowds of black youths set fire to police cars and looted stores. A homemade Israeli flag was burned.
Leaders of Anne Arundel County's black and Jewish communities emphasized that their new coalition -- the first such in the county's history -- was formed precisely to combat the sort of tensions that resulted in the Crown Heights violence.
The Rev. Colin Macrae Lambert, a coalition member and pastorof Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Annapolis, said he believes three things occur when community leadership joins together to discuss their differences.
"You get to appreciate the other significant group, and in respecting each other you can develop strategies to educate the community about your needs, and you can establish priorities you work on until the issues are resolved," Lambert said.
One such priority for the coalition will be trying to obtain "a balanced representation of various minorities in our public school teachers. We need appropriate role models for all areas of the community," he said.
The coalition's first big initiative was July 28, when more than 400 county blacks and Jews gathered at an Annapolis synagogue to celebrate the liberation of black Jews to Israel last May. Rabbis and ministers pointed to the airlift as a symbol of the commoncause that should bind them together, and called for renewed ties tofight prejudice and persecution.
"Here in Anne Arundel County, the African-American and Jewish leadership must share responsibility," Snowden said. "In contrast to what's happening in Crown Heights, what's happening here is timely and hopeful."