Rights commission hears accounts of January racial clash in Denton CAROLINE COUNTY

April 27, 1993|By Joe Forsthoffer | Joe Forsthoffer,Contributing Writer

DENTON -- Black teen-agers and parents gathered last night at the Caroline County library to tell the Maryland Human Relations Commission (HRC) about attacks on black youths by members of Denton's all-white police force and town firefighters in January.

The hearing was called by the commission, which has been investigating complaints of excessive force being used against the youths following a Jan. 24 dance at the fire hall.

Youths and parents told the HRC that nightsticks, chemical Mace and fire hoses were used to disperse black teens singled out by the police and firefighters after fighting broke out among white youths and prompted an early end to the biracial event.

"Black people got Mace in their faces, not whites," said Vernel Williams, a 15-year-old boy who had been at the dance.

The Williams youth told about a dozen HRC members that members of the Denton Volunteer Fire Department would not allow the young people -- white or black -- to get their coats or refunds of the $4 tickets when firefighters ordered the music stopped and ended the dance halfway through the evening.

The Williams youth and other black teens said firefighters forced black youths from the dance and that police officers uttering racial slurs attacked only black teens with Mace and nightsticks.

Denise Williams, mother of both Vernel and 13-year-old James Major, who was one of the two youths arrested, said her sons were cut, scratched and bruised, and their clothing was torn by police officers.

"I feel the African-American children were treated in a harsh and cruel manner," she said. "I want someone to tell me what this was, if it wasn't racially motivated. Denton has been and always will be a very prejudiced town."

Maryland NAACP representative George Ames asked the commission and approximately 50 people attending the meeting, "Are we living in 1993 or are we living in the '60s?"

Black church and community leaders praised the town commissioners and residents for coming together following the dance to discuss racial tensions at a series of meetings.

Henry B. Ford, deputy director of the HRC, described the public hearing as informational. After receiving written testimony, the commission may choose to present town officials with recommendations. Last night's hearing will not lead to any formal action, Mr. Ford said.

"We're trying to determine what happened that night," he said. "We have conflicting allegations," he said, referring to accounts taken by investigators from others involved in the confrontation, including the police and firefighters.

The state police also are investigating the incident at the request of town Police Chief William C. Davis.

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