Meeting Monday on racial tensions

Community, officials to discuss hate crimes, racist literature

One idea is rapid-response team

August 12, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Community groups and local officials will meet again Monday to discuss ways to ease racial tensions in Anne Arundel County, including the creation of a race-relations "umbrella group" to respond quickly to hate crime reports.

This is the second session this summer at which officials and organizations are examining the touchy subject of how to best handle suspected hate crimes and continuing distribution of white supremacist literature.

At the first meeting, in June, civil rights leaders said hate-crime victims and communities wanted to know what to do when an incident occurs or a neighborhood is inundated with racist literature or other fliers.

Officials say strategies under discussion include holding town hall-style meetings or less formal sessions, and creating a rapid-response team that might include officials and community liaisons to work with the victims of hate crimes and communities where fliers have been distributed. Officials said they expect that organizations with successful programs will be part of the effort.

"I am just hopeful that the group will form an umbrella organization for the numerous race-relations programs that are out there," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

Representatives of local law-enforcement agencies, community and civil rights groups, and the U.S. Department of Justice are expected at the Monday afternoon meeting in Annapolis.

Last year, some county civil rights groups asked the Justice Department to launch a hate-crime investigation after the death of a black teenager who was involved in a brawl with several young white men in Pasadena. Six white men were charged with manslaughter in the case, but one was acquitted and charges were dropped against the other five.

Recent months have seen nighttime literature drops - including bundled inflammatory anti-black and anti-Hispanic-immigrant fliers - on lawns throughout the county. The county also has been the scene of racial incidents, including suspected hate crimes.

"People have been asking what can they do to combat these problems," said Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens and a leader in the black community.

Weathersbee and Snowden said the first thing that neighbors can do is speak up.

"Go talk to your neighbor and say `this is wrong,'" Weathersbee said.

"Silence has a way of implying consent," Snowden said.

At Arundel-on-the-Bay, many in the 350-home waterside community outside Annapolis fumed when hate literature appeared on lawns Monday.

The response of the Property Owners Association of Arundel-on-the-Bay was a gathering on the beach at sunset Tuesday, hastily organized by Frank A. Florentine, president of the homeowners group. He said about 60 people attended.

"It was not a vigil. It was more like a statement of values that was more powerful than anything that was thrown on our lawn," he said.

"I guess it wanted to divide the white man from everyone else but it had the opposite effect," he said. "It brought us all together."

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