Reacting partly to concerns surrounding the investigation of a Korean-American student slain four years ago, U.S. Civil Rights Commission advisers are planning a study to determine whether Korean-Americans face racial discrimination in Baltimore.
The commission's Maryland Advisory Committee, made up of volunteers who have scheduled a hearing on the issue Sept. 29, will be asking for public comments "relating to administration of justice as it applies to Korean Americans," said committee chairman Chester Wickwire.
Committee members have heard from the father of Joel Lee, the Towson State University student fatally shot in the face during a $20 mugging in Northeast Baltimore on Sept. 2, 1993. The ensuing murder trial touched off a wave of protest when a jury made up of 11 blacks and one Asian-American acquitted the African-American defendant, Davon Neverdon.
Wickwire said the Lee case isn't the sole reason for conducting a study of possible racial bias toward Korean-Americans. But he said the murder "will certainly be brought up" in the hearings.
"Mr. Lee [Kenneth Lee, Joel's father] has come in and talked to us. He is devastated, and he really doesn't know what to do," Wickwire said.
Kenneth Lee said yesterday that he supported any scrutiny given to the events surrounding the murder of his son and the subsequent investigation. But he questioned whether the commission has any teeth.
"I don't know whether or not they have a lot of power," Kenneth Lee said. "My gut feeling is they probably don't."
Edward Darden, an analyst for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission who manages the Maryland advisory committee, said the public hearings will deal with not only justice issues but quality of ambulance and other municipal services provided for Korean-Americans.
Once the committee has conducted public hearings, it will release a report more than a year from now with suggestions, Darden said. It would then be presented to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, made up of eight members -- four appointed by the president and four appointed by Congress.
Federal prosecutors in Baltimore, who have the authority to bring a civil rights indictment even after a defendant is acquitted in state courts, reviewed the Lee case for 18 months. An uncle of the suspect in Joel Lee's death had written to prosecutors and contended that his nephew had admitted to him that he killed Joel Lee because he was Korean, federal authorities said.
But prosecutors said they found the uncle's statements to be unreliable and they finally concluded that there was no hope of filing civil rights charges in Joel Lee's death.
The Sept. 29 hearing will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Western Maryland College in Westminster in the Trustees Board Room. Another meeting is tentatively set for November. For more information, contact Chester Wickwire at (410) 825-8949.