The Howard County NAACP has criticized elected county officials for not speaking out against a recent spate of hate incidents in parts of Howard as diverse as the rural western end and the integrated suburb of Columbia.
Bowyer G. Freeman, president of the county NAACP branch, said that County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the five County Council members need to send a strong message across the county that hate incidents will not be tolerated.
Freeman cited recent activity by the Ku Klux Klan in the west county town of Lisbon, the distribution of 50 copies of a racist and anti-Semitic newspaper in central Columbia last month and the vandalism of a small black church in Lisbon in August.
He noted that county administrators have reported an increasing number of racial, religious and ethnic incidents in Howard in recent years, and said elected officials should immediately condemn racist acts.
"I think our elected government officials have a responsibility for setting the tone, articulating the stance of the county," said Freeman, who was elected president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People seven months ago. "They've been noticeably silent as it relates to the proliferation of racial, religious and ethnic incidents in the county."
Freeman said silence by officials is sending a message to "hate-mongers" that their behavior is tolerated, especially in light of the rise to national stature of David Duke, the former neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who plans to run as a Republican in Maryland's presidential primary in March.
Ecker said yesterday that he has denounced hate incidents, but acknowledged that his views may not have reached much of the public.
"Certainly, we do condemn them," said Ecker. "Maybe we need to do it in a broader forum. . . . How do you get the word out to the people? I could put something out on Channel 15 [the county's cable channel]. I probably should.
"I don't condone, and I never will, the passing of hate literature, the vandalizing of the church out west. And I don't think David Duke ought to be in the Maryland primary. I think that is terrible."
Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, who represents Lisbon, said a local civil rights activist has told him of Klan activity in the area, but that he had no real evidence that the racist organization is active there.
"Everyone I talk to would detest anything like that," Feaga said. He added that he was concerned about giving publicity to the Klan by responding to allegations of activity in the area. He said it would be best to ignore the group if it wants to stir up trouble.
"I look at those people as being so far out that they're disgusting and you hope they just go on," Feaga said.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he has tried to get more information on hate incidents from the county, but has been unable to obtain reports. He said Ecker should be the primary figure in condemning hate crimes because the executive has more access to the reports.
"I agree with [Freeman] that local officials should be in on these things, but the county executive should be in the lead," Gray said.
Freeman blamed the rise of hate incidents on the downturn of the nation's economy, and said that even affluent Howard has not escaped racial hatred.
"When there are problems, we catch the blame. We catch the heat," he said, referring to blacks. "This is a sign of the times. But we're not anybody's whipping post. We're not anybody's whipping boy."
Freeman was especially critical of the racist, anti-Semitic newspaper from the Church of the Creator in Otto, N.C., which police say was distributed by a teen-ager in Columbia's Running Brook neighborhood. He said such literature should be a crime and should not be protected by the First Amendment.
"The intent is to instill fear, limit your liberties and certainly are counter to the pursuit of happiness," Freeman said.
In a related matter, Ecker yesterday named Maggie Brown, assistant county administrator, as acting director of the Office of Human Rights to replace Cynthia Harvey, who resigned under pressure last week. He said he hopes to name a permanent replacement by Feb. 1.