Fighting racism everywhere Suburban shock: Laurel hate crime a reminder that no area is immune to such evil.

April 29, 1996

THERE IS no way the word "good" can be applied to any aspect of the racism that resulted in the wanton vandalizing of an African-American family's home in Howard County. We cannot feel good about this discouraging reminder that any place, even those with a reputation for diversity and tolerance, can be fertile ground for ignorant, mean-spirited actions. Instead of good, let us say the reminder is "useful." It keeps us on our toes.

Sonia James, 27, her 2 1/2 -year-old son and her mother, Mary Alice James, returned home to their townhouse apartment last Tuesday and found a nightmare. Broken dishes covered the floor. Clothes were bleached, furniture was sliced open and carpeting was soaked. "Go You Don't Belong" and "Niggers Get Out" had been spray-painted on a wall upstairs. Similar language was used in fliers placed on cars and on railings at the North Laurel complex on April 9.

People have tried to make amends for the vandalism. Outraged neighbors, police officers and others have donated or offered everything from children's toys, detergent and furniture to clothes and law school study notes for Ms. James, who is a student at the University of Maryland School of Law. The family has been relocated in the apartment complex, but say they don't know how long they will stay.

A poll of state residents' attitudes on race relations was released earlier this year by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy. It concluded that three out of four Marylanders think race relations are "only fair" or "poor." Fifty percent of those polled said race relations were "only fair," 25 percent termed them "poor," 21 percent rated such matters "good" and 1 percent called them "excellent."

The poll results didn't rate big headlines. Unfortunately, people pay more attention to those actions predicated by such statistics. We are not all getting along, as Rodney King pleaded. Too frequently people hear a racist comment, an ethnic slur, an intolerant statement about someone else's religion and ignore the remark. Our silence gives cowardly bigots just enough courage to go a step further and sneak and do what someone did to the James' home.

The bigotry, the insults, the hurt won't stop until good people speak out. Racism exists. Intolerance persists. This situation will continue until ordinary citizens stand up for what's right.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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