Racist death threat stains a community

Comment

April 02, 2000

A DARK CLOUD hovers over the southern Anne Arundel communitv of Mayo.

The haze came weeks before some dangerous lunatic sent a racially charged death threat to school Superintendent Carol S. Parham on March 21.

Things got ominous when racism surfaced in discussions over Ms. Parham's plan to transfer the mostly white Mayo Elementary School population, temporarily, to an empty wing of majority black Annapolis Middle School.

Never mind that the elementary school students would never come into contact with the middle school students.

Officials have put other school populations - students, teachers and administrators - into Annapolis Middle four other times on a temporary basis. On those four occasions, all school facilities were separate -- classroom areas, lunch and recess. Elementary school students rarely saw middle-schoolers. White kids rarely saw black kids.

To their credit, Mayo residents who have publicly debated the transfer objected to the long bus ride their elementary school children would endure twice a day. Robin Greulich, a Mayo parent who has led the opposition, is passionate but level-headed in public hearings. She and others have acquitted themselves well.

Trouble lurks, however, somewhere behind the scenes.

First, there is the misinformation that elementary school children would walk the same halls at the same time with Annapolis Middle students. Untrue. The middle school's major flaw is its size. It's too big for the population, a problem school officials will have to deal with eventually. But its size makes it an ideal temporary home for other school populations, such as Mayo, that are lucky enough to have a new building under construction.

Then there's the misperception that the transfer would somehow threaten Mayo's status as a National Blue Ribbon school for academic excellence. Also untrue. Students and staff - not the bricks and mortar - earned the tremendous honor. The important ingredients will still be there. A temporary relocation will not diminish the school's lofty academic standing.

The most pernicious problem is racism. Some Mayo parents have admitted privately that they object to sending their white students to a majority black school.

Nearly a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education decision, some white parents still pursue a disgusting ideal of separate educational facilities for black and white. "It's something some people don't want to say," one Mayo parent told a reporter in late February.

It's impossible to determine the breadth and depth of this sentiment. Only Mayo knows precisely what role race plays in the controversy. It would be unfair and inaccurate to tarnish the entire community with the racism label. Most likely, only a small proportion deserves it.

But its clear that the atmosphere was poisoned. Discussions about Dr. Parham's plan went far beyond concerns over the time and distance between Mayo bus stops and Annapolis Middle.

Even if the sender of the racist threat acted alone, that person had encouragement just like in other infamous incidents.

Timothy McVeigh, for example, didn't emerge from a vacuum.

The worst mass murderer in U.S. history was a creation of racist, anti-government sentiments that spread like evil weeds. McVeigh's hateful act, bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, was the manifestation of those sentiments.

The local nut who sent the letter to Dr. Parham must be caught. We're counting on the Annapolis police and Federal Bureau of Investigation to bring the offender to justice and nip this dangerous behavior.

But others may also deserve blame, even if their actions were not criminal. Apparently, there were ugly whispers about a black superintendent making the decision to send white students to a black school.

Dr. Parham deserves better. By most measures, she has done an excellent job since taking over as interim chief when the system was mired in one of its worst disasters ever: the Ron Price scandal.

The superintendent steered the system past the Price matter, in which a teacher had sex with students and tried to excuse his behavior as a sickness.

Dr. Parham makes many tough decisions, some of them unpopular, some of them despised, all of thenm subject to rational debate.

Does Mayo's rational majority know what the fringe minority is doing?

The Mayo majority has done the right thing by offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the letter-sender.

But the cloud will hang over Mayo until someone roots out the real culprit and does something to clear the air of racial hatred.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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