Residents tell tales of racism to Yates Commissioner urged to support NAACP VTC

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

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

About 40 people 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 schools.

They gave accounts of a store owner who drew a gun on a 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 Fourth 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 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."

He asked for specific incidents of discrimination from those at the meeting. "I have to know the individual cases, any time you were singled out because of race," he said.

Many told him that he should not wait for specific reports.

"You have the power to implement policy," said Carl Smith of Eldersburg. "Why do you have to wait for a situation to react?"

Yates assured the crowd that he would address the problems to the best of his abilities. He said he was particularly concerned with the low numbers of African-American teachers in the school system: 13 among about 1,700.

Yates declined an invitation to join the new branch, saying he did not have time to be an active member. He did offer a donation.

The group lacks the official sanction from state NAACP officials, but plans to continue organizing. Those behind the effort say they feel that the presence of the national organization is needed to dispel what they see as a racist climate in the county.

Many association officials have attended the three previous organizational meetings, encouraging the effort to re-establish a local branch, but most are attending the national convention in Atlanta this week.

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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