Hate marches on Recent vandalism shows that racism and ignorance plague us still.

September 06, 1996

UNFORTUNATELY, HATE seems destined to follow us into the 21st century. In the nation and in Howard County, the central issue of race relations remains far from resolved. The century began with "separate but equal" and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk before advances in race relations came in the second half of the 1900s with Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.

Two hate crimes in Howard County over the Labor Day weekend, however, show we have not progressed enough. Indeed, we may be regressing. Vandals spray-painted a racial slur on a sign at the new River Hill High School. Miles away, someone smeared a swastika on the door of a Jewish family's home in Kings Contrivance. But these are only recent examples. Each year, county officials record dozens of hate crimes, and the numbers are not dropping.

Jenkins Odoms, president of the county's NAACP chapter, decried "institutional racism" in a controversial statement earlier this year. He did not offer specific examples to support his claim, but his remarks were a reminder that we need to build tolerance and understanding. Mr. Odoms blames some public officials for telegraphing the opposite message. Again, he gave no examples. But some of the discourse in public venues and over (( the airwaves is filled with rhetoric that perpetuates biases.

County Human Rights Administrator Jim Henson says it is difficult to know what drives a person to commit a hate crime. He blames a few extremists who act against people from other cultures that they don't like or understand. He surmises that the motivation could range from "kids being kids" to something that "borders on hate and ignorance."

One way or another, stupidity is at least a contributing factor. But it also is hard to imagine that someone could go to the extent of smearing a swastika or spray-painting such an offensive word without feeling pure hatred toward the people they seek to victimize.

It takes hatred to motivate someone to carry out a purposeful act that causes someone anguish and pain. These incidents are particularly disturbing in a well-educated, generally well-to-do jurisdiction with one of the better reputations for race relations. They demand our vigilance and our scorn.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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