Black group backs woman, 82, in rift with neighbor

January 31, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

An 82-year-old Columbia woman who says she was assaulted, spit upon, and called "nigger" by a 33-year-old white neighbor in her Wilde Lake apartment complex received promises of support yesterday from members of a black fraternity.

"You are not alone," David H. Barrett, vice president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, told Jessie Jones and her daughter, Verna Lawes.

"We are here to demonstrate our support. We believe this is an issue of race, and we also believe it is an issue of age."

The women told fraternity members they need legal assistance to help prosecute assault charges they have filed against the neighbor and to defend themselves from assault charges the neighbor has filed against them in connection with an Aug. 24 incident.

Waving her cane for emphasis, Ms. Jones gave fraternity members this account of the incident involving a neighbor identified in court documents as Brenda Sue Cochran:

"She always used to speak to me, but this day didn't say a word, because she thought we had something to do with getting rid of her dog. I told her I didn't have anything to do with the dog, and Verna didn't have anything to do with the dog.

"She then got up out of her chair and walked in front of me and spit in my face. I took the cane I had to wipe the spit out of my face, and as I was wiping the spit off my face, she took her fist and hit me and knocked me down."

Ms. Cochran took her cane away from her, Ms. Jones said, and Ms. Lawes came to her rescue. As Ms. Lawes sought to wrest the cane away, Ms. Cochran was cut on the forehead, Ms. Jones said. She said Ms. Cochran later filed assault charges, claiming Ms. Lawes hit her.

"In the meantime," Ms. Jones said, "she's . . . saying, 'You no-good . . . nigger, go back where you came from. We don't want you here.' "

Ms. Cochran maintained last night that the incident had nothing to do with race, or her former pet, which was found running loose and taken away by the county.

"I thought this was over with," she said in an interview at her apartment. "What am I supposed to do now -- bring in 21 white people to support me? This is what gets it going. I've never been a prejudiced person, but some people make you feel like you should be."

Ms. Cochran said she had spoken with a manager of the apartment complex about getting professional help to mediate the dispute. "I'm scared, I've been threatened and I'm alone here with my three kids," she said. "I can't sit back and live here in peace as I would like."

Ms. Cochran said she and Ms. Jones met privately and apologized to each other about a week prior to a Jan. 11 hearing on the charges against Ms. Jones and Ms. Lawes. She was planning to have the charges dropped until she learned that the police were still investigating the incident, Ms. Cochran said. She was granted a continuance of the case in Howard County District Court.

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