Invoking Willie Horton Don't let hate-mongers shape discussion on proposed rental housing.

October 18, 1995

WILLIE HORTON isn't likely to ever rent a house in Carroll County. The convicted murderer and rapist, whose image helped George Bush defeat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race, is still behind bars in Maryland. Sentenced to two life sentences, he will remain there for decades. So, why was his picture and name used on a flier urging people to attend an informational meeting in South Carroll last week about a proposed 250-unit rental apartment complex in Carrolltown?

To stir fear. And prejudice.

"Folks like good old Willie Horton need affordable housing and access to decent schools," the flier said. The flier never explicitly states who these "folks" are, but the implication was clear. The handbill wasn't referring to convicted felons but to African-Americans, and it equated all blacks with Willie Horton.

The hatemonger who created this garbage and his accomplices who distributed it to South Carroll households tried mightily to sow seeds of racism and hate. In today's volatile political environment, too many people are not rationally discussing issues of growth and development. Instead, they gather support by appealing to base fears of crime, declining property values and social disorder.

Implying that rental units would attract criminals into the neighborhood is an effective scare tactic. But people moving into these apartments will have to be employed if they are to be able to afford the projected rents. The other point is that many African-Americans have sufficient incomes not only to rent these townhouses but to buy houses. In fact, the median household income for blacks in Carroll was $33,636 in the 1990 Census, almost 10 percent more than the regional average as a whole (albeit about $9,000 less than the white household median in the county).

To their credit, the heads of neighborhood associations who oppose development of the apartment complex were quick to disassociate themselves from the flier. Political leaders should follow Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell's example and speak out against intolerance and bigotry. There may be legitimate arguments against developing this complex at this time, but injecting the likeness of Willie Horton has no part in them.

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