Victims of hate crime given aid Neighbors, others donate items, urge the family to stay

April 26, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

Just two days after vandals wrecked a North Laurel black family's townhouse and sprayed racial slurs on the wall telling the trio to leave, outraged neighbors, police officers and others have donated hundreds of items to encourage them to stay.

Everything from children's toys, detergent and furniture to clothes and law school study notes have been offered or donated at the rental office of the Seasons Apartments, said Laura Hoppenstein, assistant community director.

More than 100 calls came from Howard County, Baltimore, Prince George's County, Washington and even from former residents of the development, she said.

One of the victims, law student Sonia James, 27, was short on words yesterday for the well-wishing strangers who shook her hand and gave words of encouragement.

"This lets you know there are a lot of good people out there," said Ms. James, who has lived in the community with her mother, Mary Alice James, and 2 1/2 -year-old son for about two months.

Residents, police and managers of the complex will discuss the recent hate-bias incident during a Neighborhood Crime Watch meeting at the Seasons Apartments clubhouse at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"I hate it," said one African-American woman, who refused to give her name out of fear of retaliation. "But I'm standing my ground like Rosa Parks."

Her husband, who was with her near a neighborhood playground, said, "I moved from D.C. to get away from gunfire, now it's hatred here. You can't live anywhere."

The racial graffiti occurred two weeks after fliers purporting to be from a white supremacist group were placed on windshields of cars parked at the development. Other residents said yesterday they had found different fliers three weeks ago that sought members for a white supremacist group.

Howard County police said yesterday that they had no suspects in the vandalism and didn't know whether a group was involved. Police were patrolling the neighborhood and handing out fliers warning about hate crime in the area.

Although Ms. James and her family have relocated to another residence in the large apartment and townhouse development, she said they may move from the neighborhood sooner than they had planned.

They were planning to move in December, when Ms. James expects to graduate, but she was reconsidering the move because she liked the area.

That changed Tuesday, when vandals cut her front window screen between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., entered and spray-painted "You Don't Belong" and racial slurs on the walls. The vandals also cut furniture, broke dishes, poured bleach and paint over all clothes, spray-painted family photos and flooded the home. A stereo, VCR, video camera and jewelry were taken.

Yesterday, detectives were sifting through evidence collected at the scene, but Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman, would not discuss what was found.

Ms. James said police returned some property to her yesterday. James Henson, director of the Howard County Office of Human Relations, said he hoped police would find the vandals soon. "This sends a bad message to the world," he said.

Donna Thewes, a Howard County police liaison from the North Laurel Civic Association, said: "I'm stunned that in 1996 something like this would happen. There is no room for this."

Some longtime neighborhood residents said racist graffiti has been in the community for years, even before the name was changed to the Seasons from the Whiskey Bottom Apartments -- an area that had a reputation for high drug activity before undergoing several million dollars in renovations and improvements.

Still, residents say they occasionally find swastikas painted on a park bridge and others on trash bins. Basketball rims and blackboards were removed last fall after racial slurs were painted on them, residents said yesterday.

One resident, Sylvia Vacchio-Chiodaroli, said, "We don't stand for this type of behavior."

Another, Salvadoran native Oscar Cabrera, 30, said: "I hope they don't come back. It makes me wonder what they would do to me."

For now, Ms. James said she will "keep my head up."

"I can't just sit around and ask, 'Why?' I've got to be strong and go on to better things."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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