Howard County schools, businesses become targets of racial incidents


Vandals defaced four schools and businesses with racial epithets in Howard County in a series of hate incidents over the weekend.

The incidents are the most recent to occur in a county whose reputation for racial harmony has been tarnished by a string of such events recently.

Since the beginning of this year, police have recorded more than 25 hate incidents. There were 53 racial, religious and ethnic incidents reported last year. The incidents range from a fight involving racial slurs at Glenelg High School to mailing of hate literature to graffiti on school walls.

The weekend incidents included:

* Spray-painting of racial slurs on a stairwell and a trash bin near a black-owned business at the Cherry Tree Center in Scaggsville. The incident was reported to police Sunday.

* Painting of "KKK" slogans and epithets on a wall and a window of the Patuxent Valley Animal Hospital Saturday or Sunday at the same Scaggsville shopping center.

* Painting of obscenities and racial slurs on benches and trash cans at the Clemens Crossing Elementary School baseball diamond Friday or Saturday.

* Writing of "KKK" and racial slurs on a bathroom wall at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City. The vandalism was reported to the police Monday by the school principal.

Also over the weekend, a 48-year-old black male in Columbia reported to police that he had received numerous anonymous harassing and racist phone calls.

Police do not know if the incidents are related.

"Some people may say it's the climate we're in right now, the fallout from the [Los Angeles] rioting," Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a Howard County police spokesman, said. "The coverage of these events have people more aware of things going on."

Veterinarian Louis Wiest, whose office was painted with slurs, thinks the incident was random. "We just don't understand how it could be targeted to our place," he said. "We just think it was a malicious act."

Mr. Wiest is white and there are no minority employees at the animal hospital.

"I think it's a shame in this day and age that this kind of thing has to happen," said Mr. Wiest, whose hospital opened four years ago. "We have many clients who are of many different races and backgrounds."

Other recent incidents have included the passing of Ku Klux Klan literature in Lisbon and the distribution of more than 1,000 white supremacist newspapers by a "skinhead" group on Columbia lawns.

County schools seemed to be the hardest hit with vandalism and hate incidents this year.

In April, racial epithets and "KKK" were spray-painted at Hammond and Atholton high schools. In February, the Louisiana-based United American Front sent white supremacist literature to Owen Brown and Wilde Lake middle schools in Columbia. And in March, "KKK" was spray-painted on a wall at Thunder Hill Elementary School, also in Columbia.

Tomorrow, school officials are expected to give to the school board a new policy to discipline students who involve themselves in hate-bias incidents on school grounds. The policy, called "Educational and Personal Rights," makes it a violation for students to harass, use profanity, threaten or intimidate others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation, among other criteria.

The conduct policy comes at a time when the school system itself is under investigation by the Maryland Commission on Human Relations for possible mistreatment of past racial incidents.

School spokeswoman Patti Caplan said there have been 38 instances of graffiti -- including racial epithets and others -- on school property as of the end of April.

Earlier this month, before the verdict in the Rodney King beating sparked violence in Los Angeles, police responded to a fight involving racial slurs and nine students at Glenelg High School.

One white student was charged with assault after he allegedly pushed a teacher who was trying to break up the fight. Police also charged two black students with possession of weapons after one had a hunting knife and the other brought brass knuckles to school. Police said the students armed themselves because they were afraid another fight would erupt.

Days after the fight, school psychologists and police and sheriff officials were sent to the school -- which has about 50 black students out of more than 1,000 overall. The discussions spurred the formation of a multicultural relations committee to deal with race relations.

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