Encouragement offered in fighting hate crimes

U.S. officials urge Arundel to focus on young people

October 06, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A U.S. Department of Justice representative told Anne Arundel County officials yesterday that they shouldn't minimize hate crimes, because that could send the wrong message to residents.

Vermont McKinney, who works with the department's Community Relations Service division, recommended the county focus on young people in its efforts to stop such crimes because statistics show that 31 percent of violent hate crimes nationwide are committed by people under the age of 18.

McKinney and colleague Ben Lieu attended the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting yesterday, along with county officials and residents, including a recent hate crime victim.

"You have to set the bar as to your tolerance and your willingness to let hate crimes creep into your community," said Lieu, who returned recently from New York, where he was temporarily assigned after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A recent increase in hate crimes in the county has motivated government officials and community groups, including the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the county state's attorney, to unite in an effort to educate residents and prosecute offenders.

McKinney gave an example of a successful response to a hate crime. He recounted how an African-American community in Long Beach, Calif., reached out to a youth who planned, but never executed, an attack on their church. Church leaders wrote letters to the youth and met with his family to dispel racial prejudices, he said.

"Coordinate and collaborate are the `c' words, and what you've got here represents that," said McKinney, referring to the diverse mix of people who attended the meeting, including a judge, public defender and sheriff's deputy, as well as County Executive Janet S. Owens and Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan.

Also present was Tina Marie Head, a Laurel resident who in August tried to buy a home in the London Towne area of Edgewater. On the day she and her husband were to settle on the house, someone sprayed racist graffiti on the garage.

The couple eventually backed out of the sale. They are now set to purchase a house in Millersville.

In response to the incident, Head and her husband Frank are organizing an education program for schoolchildren and residents. They would like the first event to be held in South County.

This summer, expletives, threats and racial slurs were spray-painted on the house and car of a black minister in Crofton, and a predominantly black church in Lothian was looted and desecrated.

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