There’s reality and there’s fantasy when it comes to the issue of racism, and that’s particularly true in Harford County.
Bel Air town officials were confronted with a couple of incidents of blatant racism within their community during the past year.
One occurred last December when a town police officer stopped a longtime town resident while she was walking in her neighborhood and questioned her about her presence there. The woman and her family came to the United States from India decades ago. The inference was she was questioned because of her brown skin after someone had called police about a “suspicious person.” To the credit of town officials, they did not equivocate and confronted the incident head-on.
More recently, after seven students at Bel Air High School put letters on their shirts spelling out a derogatory word for African-Americans and then took and disseminated a photograph, town officials were confronted with this distasteful act when a number of people showed up at a Board of Town Commissioners meeting in October asked that something be done, not just about incidents like the one at the school, but about the attitudes that foster a pervasive racism.
“There is great concern about racism and issues of diversity out in the community,” Bel Air Town Administrator Jesse Bane said during an annual pre-session meeting hosted by Harford County’s state senators and delegates late last week.
Bane, who served honorably in law enforcement for more than four decades including eight years as the county’s elected sheriff, wasn’t sweeping things under the rug. There’s a problem of racism, not just in Bel Air obviously, he acknowledged, and it’s time to own up to it.
But then fantasy set in.
Del. Susan McComas, whose district includes Bel Air, asked if those expressing concerns were “Bel Aircentric, or are folks coming from outside of Bel Air?”
In the 1960s civil rights era, there was a term coined for this, which McComas, who is of that generation, was probably thinking: “outside agitators.”
But, does it matter where those who are concerned about racism in Bel Air actually live? Does it give them less standing to be concerned if they come from outside the town limits. We think not.
Bane and Bel Air Town Commissioner Robert Preston, also members of the 1960s generation, batted McComas’ inappropriate comment right back at her.
“I think that’s what concerned citizens are looking for is, if there is a problem they expect it to be addressed,” Bane said.
Preston said that people from Aberdeen to Baltimore, as well as Bel Air, had attended town meetings to express their concerns about racism.
“They wanted to come to our meeting and express their concerns, and we pretty much acknowledged their concerns and are willing to work with the community,” Preston said.
Which is precisely how community leaders should react in these times.