Race coalition preps for growth, diversity boom

Group warns biases could sour relations on Fort Meade project

February 02, 2007|By JOE PALAZZOLO | JOE PALAZZOLO,Special to The Sun

As the county braces for the expansion of Fort Meade and the addition of tens of thousands of new jobs, a coalition charged with improving race relations is preparing for a diversity boom.

Thousands of families of various races, ethnicities and creeds are going to sweep into Anne Arundel County over the next decade, said Carl O. Snowden, director of civil rights in the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

"We're preparing the community for the change that's coming," Snowden, an Annapolis native and former aide to former County Executive Janet S. Owens, told a crowd of about 30 Tuesday at a meeting at Crofton Meadows Elementary School.

The Anne Arundel Race Relations Coordinating Council, which formed last summer to make a stand against suspected hate crimes and white supremacist leafleting, organized the meeting.

Composed of local officials and public leaders, the council helps coordinate responses to suspected hate crimes and has organized meetings throughout the county to discuss race relations.

Snowden and Council Chairwoman Janet Harvey served as moderators and framed much of Tuesday's discussion in terms of the county's anticipated growth - an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 government and private-sector jobs over the next decade.

They and others warned that hate crimes could sour employers on the area and curb what promises to be a period of extraordinary economic expansion.

Joshua C. Green, vice president of the Crofton Civic Association, said that groups like his would have to be accountable to newcomers.

"It's going to be very important for all community associations ... to embrace these individuals so that we can grow together," said Green.

Snowden added that all employers look at three things: quality of schools, quality of life "and whether the community is a welcoming one."

There were 125 instances of "bias behavior" in the county school system last year, a slight drop from the previous year, said Kevin Maxwell, Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent.

He said policies to "reprimand students found behaving like this" and to promote tolerance and stress the country's rich cultural, ethnic and racial history are making a difference.

"The number is still too high, but we'll continue to work on it," Maxwell said.

Anne Arundel County, which is 79 percent white and 14 percent black, according to 2005 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, was peppered with white-supremacist fliers last year.

Police said that about 70 hate crime incidents were reported in the county last year, largely stemming from leaflets and suspected property crimes, such as racially charged graffiti.

Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said that the leaflets were constitutionally protected speech and could not be prosecuted as a hate crime.

"We'd charge them with littering, but we've never caught anyone," Weathersbee said. "They do it in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness."

County deputy police Chief Emerson Davis said that before the council's formation, county agencies had different processes for dealing with suspected hate crimes, making them difficult to track.

He urged people to call the police if they discovered a leaflet on their property, even though it may not constitute a crime.

"Don't be afraid to call us," Davis said. "There's nothing too minor for us to come out and investigate." The council's next town hall meeting will be held in Annapolis at the end of March, Harvey said.

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