Residents Discuss Ways To Combat Racial Incidents

February 09, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff writer

County residents concerned about a string of recent hate incidents are calling for creation of neighborhood support groups and more multiracial programs in public schools to help deter such actions.

About 70 people attended a community meeting in Harper's Choice Thursday night to discuss how to crack down on any future incidents and copingwith what's happened.

The group included people like Helen Ruther of Wilde Lake, who for six days in November and December went from one light pole to the next on Vantage Point Road peeling off hate stickers that proclaimed, "Save the White Race: Subscribe to Racial Loyalty."

The publication, a white supremacist newspaper that urges white people to act in violence to control blacks, Jews and other minorities, has been distributed on Columbia lawns three times since November. An area skinhead group led by former Columbia resident Steven Falk, 18, claimed responsibility for distributing the papers.

Since August, several other hate incidents have occurred: A black church in Mount Airy was defacedand vandalized, a black Glenwood Middle School student was sprayed with disinfectant by a fellow student and hate literature was handed out by the Ku Klux Klan in Lisbon.

Ruther said she felt encouraged that the community had rallied to fight the incidents.

"It made a strong statement that the community is opposed to this kind of thing," she said. "And I hope it will discourage similar things from happening."

The meeting was organized by the Columbia Combined Board, a coalition of nine village boards. Those who attended the meeting included County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the County Council, the school board and state legislators. Also attending were county, state and federal human rights and fair housing

officials.

The meeting resulted in several ideas. Among them:

* Creation of neighborhood support groups for families or victims of hate crimes.

* Creation ofmore multicultural and multiracial programs in public schools to teach students about diversity and teachers about sensitivity.

* Filing of complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

* Educational programs and other alternative sentencing for juvenile offenders who participate in hate crimes.

* Issuing press releases to bring attention to incidents.

Organization representatives pledged their support, either by spearheading neighborhood watch programs or sponsoring other forums.

The Columbia Democratic Club invited concerned residents to their meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 11 at Jeffers Hill Elementary School, where they'll hold a similar forum; and the Community Building in Howard County invites people to their steering committee meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 5 at Howard Community College to set up a neighborhood support group.

Distribution of RacialLoyalty is protected by the First Amendment, and Barry Anderson, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it does not appear to violate the 1988 Fair Housing Act.

The act makes it illegal to intimidate individuals to prohibit themfrom living where they choose. The group did not target a specific race in their distribution, Anderson said.

"Literature alone is notsufficient," he said. "It's how it was delivered and the effect it has."

Any individual or group feeling coerced or threatened can file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, HUD or federal court,Anderson said. Violators of the Fair Housing Act may face civil penalties of $10,000 for the first offense.

So far, no individual or group has filed a complaint to the county Human Relations Commission or government agency about the

newspaper distribution. Sandra Dobson, director of the state's Fair Housing Awareness Program, said she'snot surprised, because people are afraid they'll lose.

"The concern about the First Amendment rights are sufficient for people to backoff," she said. "They don't want to strengthen the stand of these skinheads by (the skinheads') winning the case on freedom of speech. Many folks just aren't sure on what the standing is on the law."

TheMaryland Commission on Human Relations has distributed anti-discrimination fliers for county residents to post in front of their homes onValentine's Day. The fliers, placed at each village center, bear themessage: "Maryland does not tolerate housing discrimination."

Bowyer Freeman, executive director of the county NAACP, said racial incidents have occurred because residents had become satisfied.

"Columbia and Howard County had begun to rest on its pluralist ideology," he said.

Freeman said the meeting was a good start, but wondered what good it will do unless individuals and groups acted upon the suggestions.

Paul Farragut, chairman of the County Council, said he wasstunned by the number of people who showed up and said he was going to ask the combined board for a follow-up meeting to tie up loose ends.

"I thought things were inconclusive," he said. "I think we haveto follow through and make sure some of the discussions aren't lost."

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