Denton calm after racial fracas Club planned to help keep peace

June 27, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

DENTON -- Except for the occasional din of hammer and power saw in a small room above Cindy's Uptown Market, it is so quiet in this part of town that one can hear the bees whirring among the clover.

For some unknown reason, the metal gate to the basketball court next door is locked shut, so no one plays ball on this sunny Saturday afternoon. The streets are nearly empty, and even the police cars that made repeated patrols through this neighborhood the night before are gone.

Considering that an outbreak of racial unrest rocked this Caroline County town of 3,000 residents into the early morning hours of Friday, prompting an emergency visit by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his top aides, stillness prevailed here yesterday like the silence after a storm.

A crowd of 200 blacks pelted town police with rocks and bottles Thursday night after two white officers arrested a black juvenile at the Riverview Gardens housing complex on High Street. Three officers and the juvenile had injuries ranging from bruises to possible concussion. Since early Friday, when the four-hour fracas was broken up by local police, with assistance from other law enforcement agencies, calm -- if not peace -- appears to be restored.

At nearby Cindy's store, volunteer workers are raising a little ruckus of their own to help make sure the violence does not recur.

Cindy's, a soft drink and sandwich shop on Fifth Street in the predominantly black area of Denton, is owned by Cindy Burkee, who also owns Cindy's Market outside town.

Saying she was tired of elected officials and community leaders -- black and white -- wringing their hands over what to do to ease racial tensions here, Mrs. Burkee figured the unused second-floor over her shop might provide part of the solution.

With much carpentry and plumbing still to be done, Mrs. Burkee plans to open the Denton Community Student Studio tomorrow to a class of neighborhood youths and volunteer tutors. The noise of hammers and saws will be replaced by voices reciting reading and arithmetic lessons.

By mid-July, she says, the four-room studio should be filled with youngsters between the ages of 5 and 18 pursuing hobbies in painting, dancing and singing.

Mrs. Burkee, who purchased the building and opened her market last winter, is donating the use of the upstairs for the studio. She and friend Nolie Jackson, a social worker, have been dunning local merchants and civic groups for material and financial contributions.

So far, $4,000 has been raised toward the estimated $30,000 it will take to get the studio in shape. One local contractor agreed to install air conditioning at no cost. A town lawyer has given free legal advice. Neighborhood residents are contributing their carpentry skills.

Because those who use the studio will become members of a private club -- paying a one-time $5 membership fee to help pay utility costs and signing a contract agreeing to behave themselves -- the studio is ineligible for government funds.

And while raising money to renovate the rooms hasn't been easy, the lack of government participation doesn't bother Mrs. Burkee, who says politicians haven't done much to provide summer recreation for Denton's youths anyway.

"I've lived here 28 years, and every year I ask for a community center or a pool," she says. "I haven't seen one yet. If the reality is they're not going to do anything -- and I'm leaving the door open on that -- we'll keep doing this," she says.

Mrs. Burkee says the idea to transform the market's second story, which once was an adult night club, into a youth center came over the winter from three teen-age girls who said they had no place to practice their improvisational dances.

At the time, nearly everyone in Denton was wondering what had caused a disturbance at a teen dance held at the the local fire hall on Jan. 24. Fights among youths had broken out and police responded in force. Some residents claimed that police used excessive force and singled out black youths at the mixed dance, although the charge was not supported by a state police investigation.

Mrs. Burkee says that while many Denton residents fretted about the bad public image the fire house fracas had given the town, she and

others like Ms. Jackson insisted the real problem was how the area's youths had been ignored.

The two women say much of the unrest in Denton has more to do with a scarcity of activities for the area's teens than with racism.

"You have teen-agers in this town who are very talented," says Ms. Jackson. "I think it's time we recognized something other than basketball and walking the streets."

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