Vandals hit home of black family Racist fliers were distributed in area two weeks earlier

House ransacked, flooded

County police count 22 bias incidents so far this year

April 25, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

The townhouse of a black North Laurel family was vandalized, ransacked and flooded Tuesday, two weeks after racist fliers were distributed at the complex calling for whites to "take back what is ours."

Police yesterday called the incident -- which included offensive epithets painted on the walls -- the most destructive hate-bias crime in Howard in recent memory.

The management at the Seasons Apartments in the 9200 block of Traders Crossing relocated the victims -- Sonia James, 27, her 2 1/2 -year-old son and her mother, Mary Alice James -- to a furnished townhouse elsewhere.

"This is terrible," Sonia James said at the wrecked townhouse yesterday afternoon. "When we moved here two months ago, I never expected anything like this."

Broken dishes covered the floor, "Go You Don't Belong" and "Niggers Get Out" were spray-painted on a wall upstairs, clothes were bleached, furniture was sliced open and carpeting was soaked.

Similar language was used in racist fliers that were placed on cars and on railings at the townhouse complex April 9. The notice, littered with misspellings and partly handwritten, purported to be from a group calling itself "Whites Against Niggers."

It complained that blacks have "so many privelages," drive nicer cars and mess up neighborhoods. "We are not the KKK, but we have some of the same vision," the flier reads. "We are going to make our presence known."

The rental office sent notices to residents April 10, warning them about hate-mail distribution in the area.

"I'm disgusted," said Eric Skeeter, community director of the Seasons Apartments. He said he plans to organize a Neighborhood Watch meeting next week.

The acronym on the flier, WAN, is not known by local NAACP leaders and the Anti-Defamation League, but all groups are a concern, said Myrna Shinbaum, an ADL spokeswoman in New York.

"Any group that calls themselves whites against anything is a white supremacist group," Ms. Shinbaum said. "If they hate one group, they hate another."

Though Howard prides itself on racial diversity, Jenkins Odoms, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said at least four complaints of bias are filed with the chapter each week.

"Howard County is not exempt from the rest of the country in racial hate communication," he said. "Although we have a very diverse community, we have the same problems as any other community."

So far this year, James Henson, director of Howard County's Office of Human Relations, said his office has heard reports of "Stop the Asian Takeover" graffiti, swastikas painted on high school doors and two white men dumping snow from a pickup truck in front of a black family's home, warning them to leave.

But "we haven't seen anything close" to Tuesday's crime, Mr. Henson said.

Mr. Henson met with the victims yesterday to discuss the incident. "It's horrible," Mr. Henson said. "This leaves a terrible scar on a person."

His group plans to meet with churches, synagogues and homeowners associations to discuss how to respond to racist literature.

Howard County police have tallied 22 bias incidents this year, including eight in the Columbia and Clarksville area, six in Ellicott City, three in Savage, three in Elkridge and Jessup and two in North Laurel, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman.

In the most prominent bias incident last year, seven large red swastikas were painted Feb. 6, 1995, on the windows and outside walls of a photography shop owned by Russian Jewish immigrants in Columbia's Harper's Choice Village Center. No one has been charged in that incident.

Police said they believe the latest vandalism targeted the James family specifically, although no threats had been made against them.

Police wouldn't comment on whether they thought a specific group was responsible, but they said they were sure more than one person was involved in the incident, which included burglary.

"I don't know who they are," Ms. James said. "They could be watching me right now. On one hand I just want to get away from all this. But then there's the part of me that doesn't want them to think they scared me away."

Ms. James discovered the vandalism when she arrived home from her job as a social worker about 3 p.m. Tuesday. She realized her front door was unlocked when she turned the key, and the front window screen had been cut.

When Ms. James peered in, steam from hot running water covered her face and water dripped from the ceiling. She saw that the color television was turned over. A stereo, a VCR, a video camera and jewelry were taken.

"They destroyed everything else," said Ms. James, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law. She said she believes the attack was linked to the fliers.

Some of her neighbors said they were surprised to hear about the crime in their community, a racially diverse neighborhood of apartments and townhouses. They said they think the suspects are outsiders, because a majority of the residents there are African-Americans.

"I'm shocked," said Samia Reynolds, who is white. "We don't have any racial problems around here."

Her next-door neighbor, who is Ethiopian, responded, "Oh, my God. I'm scared."

Jonathan Tucker, 19, a white resident who found the hate notices tucked on railings in his apartment stairwell earlier this month, said: "This is stupid. They need to stop."

He said the only racial tension he's seen at the community came last summer, when a group of white teens shouted racial slurs at blacks playing basketball.

"It's ridiculous," said Martha Lewis, 48, an African-American. "I've never seen anything like this around here, but I'm going to watch out."

The Howard County Police Department is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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