2 hate incidents reported in Howard Swastika found on home, racial slur on school

September 04, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Howard County racked up two more hate incidents over the holiday weekend when a racial epithet was spray-painted on a sign at River Hill High School and a swastika was smeared in chocolate on a home in Columbia's Kings Contrivance village.

The two incidents come as the Howard County police and nine organizations and businesses, including the Rouse Co., the county schools and the Columbia Association announced a campaign yesterday to crack down on vandalism and graffiti.

The goal of the campaign is to display posters in schools, buildings and parks depicting graffiti as a crime. Rewards will be offered for reports of in-progress acts of vandalism or information about defaced areas, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman. The new drive against vandalism is not directly connected to this weekend's incidents.

Although the most notable recent hate crime report -- that a North Laurel townhouse was vandalized and defaced with racial slurs -- was determined to be a hoax, community leaders reacted yesterday seriously to the two apparently unrelated weekend incidents, which brought the county's total hate crimes so far this year to 59, police said.

That number already is close to the total number of hate crimes reported to police during each of the past two years: 64 in 1995 and 66 in 1994.

Jenkins Odoms, president of the Howard County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, attributed the increasing number of crimes to the national political climate.

"I see it coming from the Contract for America. Certain of our elected officials, they have given out the wrong message, that you can discriminate," Odom said. People "feel like they can go out and express their racism."

Jim Henson, administrator of the county's Human Rights Office, said it's difficult to know what spurs some people to hate-bias crimes. "Some of it is, kids will be kids. Some of it borders on hate and ignorance," he said.

At River Hill, students deplored the incident in which someone spray-painted "n- - - - -" on the school's sign along Route 108 sometime Friday or Saturday. "It's awful," said sophomore Sarah Berson, 15. "I thought [race relations] were fine, but now I'm not so sure."

Likewise in Kings Contrivance, neighbors of the Sherman family -- whose home in the 7600 block of Sweet Hours Way had a swastika smeared in chocolate on the window of the garage early Sunday -- expressed dismay that such hate is present in Columbia, which prides itself on racial harmony.

Scott Perl, 44, a neighbor of the Shermans', said: "This is a small, close-knit neighborhood and it's shocking to hear about a hate incident like this happening. We're all the same kind of people, with the same level of income, we've got the standard number of kids, cars and dogs.

"We're a cookie-cutter middle- class community," he said.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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