Concerned about violence nationally and its effect on Howard County, local clergy are sponsoring "Focus for Peace Week," a series of workshops, conferences, town meetings and other events, highlighted by a turn-in of so-called "violent toys" Feb. 18.
The effort, which begins tonight, comes as residents grapple with the implications of an anti-Semitic incident last week in which swastikas were painted on a photography shop in Columbia owned by Russian Jewish immigrants.
"The unfortunate incident in Harper's Choice Village Center, a hate incident . . . is a very painful, timely example of why working for justice as you seek peace is so important in our own community," said County Councilwoman Mary Lorsung.
The series of peace-oriented events, which runs from today to Feb. 19, was organized by the Howard County Clergy for Social Justice, a 40-member, interdenominational group, as an attempt to create harmony and peaceful conflict resolution.
The events will be held in interfaith and community centers, libraries and an elementary school.
Many institutions in society say they are addressing violence, "yet it seems to be on the rise," said George Martin, chairman of the group. "Are we doing everything possible to work on the issue of violence?"
According to the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group, nearly 70 murders occur every day in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics says that gunshot wounds are the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34.
Peace Week organizers note that, despite its relatively low crime rate, Howard County is not immune from the wave of violence that grips society in general. Last year there were four homicides in the county.
Organizers have made children the focus of many of the week's activities, chief among them the county's first violent-toy turn-in, patterned after similar events elsewhere on the East Coast.
Members of the Columbia United Christian Church, which organized the toy turn-in, define violent toys as those those that promote injuries and killings, glamorize war or reinforce male dominances. They have not named specific toys, however.
"Violence is a learned activity," said Merle Forney, a member of the church. "If we're going to change the cycle of violence in this country one of the points that we could start with is talking with parents about what kinds of toys they buy their children and talk to their children about how they play."
The toy turn-in will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 18 at Learningsmith in The Mall at Columbia and Zany Brainy at Snowden Square. Children who turn in a toy will receive a "peacemaker certificate," entitling them to a free toy, book or ice cream.
The event will be capped by the creation of a sculpture on the theme of peace by Catonsville assemblage sculptors Jim and Mary Opasik during "A New Ways to Play" program from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at The Meeting House.
"We're hoping that every child in the county will decide that this is something they'd like to participate in," said Jane Bucks, a coordinator.
In a further effort to curb violence, the county's Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center will sponsor a family conflict resolution workshop, also on Feb. 18.
"Conflict is a very normal, natural part of our everyday life," said Jean Toomer, chairwoman of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center. "It's how we handle that conflict that makes a difference."
Further information on "Focus for Peace Week," including a complete schedule, is available by calling Suzanne Waller at (410) 730-6044.