Carroll Co. residents tell stories of racism Commissioner urged to support new NAACP branch

July 14, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who has repeatedly denied the existence of racism in Carroll County, heard last night first-hand accounts from victims of discrimination.

A crowd of about 40 pleaded with Yates for help in joining the battle against inequality that they say exists in a county with an African-American population of less than 3 percent.

"Stand up publicly and say racism is wrong," said Dan Schaller of Westminster. "As a white man with a leadership role, acknowledge racism happens and speak out against it. Join the NAACP and participate."

A fledgling group trying to revive a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People invited the commissioner to a meeting at a Westminster church. Many last night offered personal examples of police brutality, job and housing discrimination and racism in the schools.

They gave accounts of a store owner who drew a gun on young African American shopping for shoes; a young black man refused jobs in several stores that keep "help wanted" signs posted; a 10-year-old threatened with a police officer's club at a July 4 party.

"This is a racial town," said Peaches Biggus. "Something has to be done or someone is going to get hurt."

The Rev. James E. Hinton, pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church, has heard many instances of discrimination from his predominantly African-American congregation.

"We cannot allow our boys and girls in this town to be ill-treated and not do anything about it," Hinton said.

The group criticized Yates for twice refusing to join "Call to Community," an effort in the Baltimore metropolitan area to establish a dialogue between people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

"We are not isolated here," said Kevin Smith of Eldersburg. "We need an open dialogue."

One Call to Community meeting took place at Carroll Community College a few months ago, but county officials did not attend.

"We need that partnership and discussion of what works in other places," said Thelma Smith, interim president of the as yet unchartered NAACP branch.

Yates originally said joining Call to Community would draw the county into Baltimore's problems. "If Baltimore City dies, it dies," Yates said a year ago. "Maybe we will dig it up and make farmland out of it."

Shortly after he made that remark, he told a reporter, "I probably could get re-elected on that comment alone."

But last night, the commissioner recanted. "The remark would have been better not said. I have no other defense."

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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