Vandalism sparks mixed reactions Some residents deny racial problems, despite racist slurs

October 09, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote and Donna R. Engle | Brenda J. Buote and Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

Residents of Taneytown expressed mixed reactions yesterday to news that the home of an African-American woman had been marred by pornographic and racial graffiti, in an incident the FBI is investigating as a hate crime.

In dozens of interviews yesterday, ministers and merchants, police officers and longtime residents insisted this town of about 4,700 has no racial problems, though many said they are aware of recent Ku Klux Klan activity in the area.

"In our congregation, we have people who are African-American and Hispanic, and nothing's happened to them," said the Rev. Martin P. Feild, pastor of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church. "That's why I was surprised" to hear about the incident, he said.

The oldest town in Carroll County, Taneytown is a rapidly growing blue-collar community, where about 40 percent of the ++ population lives at or below the poverty line. The city was 99.2 percent white in the 1990 census, the last year for which information is available.

More than a few residents said the crime might have been directed against "outsiders," without regard to race. Some of the victim's white neighbors say they have also been targets of vandals.

Vandals have poisoned three trees, a lilac bush and, last week, a potted plant at the home of Rick and Mary Stonesifer in the 200 block of Maryland Ave.

'Out to get people'

"Either it's someone who doesn't like us or is just out to get people in this neighborhood," said Rick Stonesifer, who moved to Taneytown a few months ago.

As part of his effort to keep an informal neighborhood watch, he checked the street at 6: 30 a.m. Monday, but he saw nothing.

Karen Magruder, 29, found the graffiti about six hours later. She had gone to her house, less than a block from the Stonesifers, with her three children and a friend to complete a few finishing touches.

Magruder, a full-time cook at Carroll County General Hospital for eight years, spent about eight months building the home with the help of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland Inc. The nonprofit group has 17 affordable housing projects from Garrett to Carroll counties.

In her kitchen, Magruder found racial and pornographic slurs on the walls and appliances. The graffiti, in green paint, has prompted an investigation by two federal agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the loan program used for the Interfaith project.

"My heart goes out to Karen Magruder and her children," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who toured Magruder's house when he visited Taneytown in June. "I know that she worked hard on her house, and we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this hateful incident."

Said FBI spokesman Peter A. Gulotta Jr.: "We will conduct a very thorough investigation -- look at the evidence, talk to witnesses, do whatever it takes to try to identify the individual or individuals who did this."

The FBI's findings will be forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office and the U.S. Department of Justice, Gulotta said. "They will decide whether the facts warrant prosecution," he said.

Those responsible could face up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of conspiring to violate Magruder's civil rights.

"These are hate crimes. It's no different than someone burning down a minority church," Gulotta said. "Not only does it inflict physical damage, it causes terror. It's something [the Magruders] will have to live with for the rest of their lives. There's absolutely no tolerance for this."

'Clean up our act'

Patricia Staples, outreach coordinator for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to fair housing, recently opened an office in Carroll County. She helped Magruder file a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development yesterday.

"That will lead them to look into this incident," said Staples, who added that she was disappointed with the response to the incident.

"All across the country, we need to clean up our act on race," Staples said. "We could all improve the way we interact. Regardless of who is responsible for this incident, it reflects an attitude that we all need to work on."

The FBI investigation is expected to take at least 30 days. As the agency launches its probe, local authorities are stepping up patrols in the neighborhood.

'Particular attention'

"We are paying particular attention to the area," said Taneytown Police Chief Melvin E. Diggs, who believes the crime might be linked to the burglary of a nearby baseball card shop -- cards featuring Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron were stolen the same night Magruder's home was vandalized.

"I think this was the work of juveniles," Diggs said. "I don't believe it was racially motivated."

Diggs, who has been in the town for about 10 years, said he cannot remember a racial incident in the community, though several residents recalled an incident several years ago when vandals painted Nazi slurs on a local auto parts store owned by a vocal critic of the Ku Klux Klan.

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