Racism incidents seen as concern in Howard; Rights activists speak at hearing in Columbia


Incidents of racism are still widespread -- even in upscale Howard County, several civil rights activists said yesterday.

The warning emerged during a public meeting of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the county Office of Human Rights in the Columbia Gateway Building.

From grievances within the local and state school system to accusations of racial profiling in shopping malls, several speakers, invited to the hearing by the committee, told panel members and an audience of about 30 people that the county is not as utopian as some would like to believe.

"Howard County is supposed to be a mecca for people with families as a place to live," said Ellen G. Spencer, an attorney representing a North Laurel family. "Unfortunately, discrimination is alive and well in Howard County."

Spencer was referring to the case of Vincent and Teresa Gibson, an African-American couple with children. The Gibsons have been involved in a dispute with white neighbors, stemming from neighbors' complaints that the Gibsons' pit bull was terrorizing the community.

Spencer said that since the county Animal Matters Hearing Board ordered the dog to be put to sleep, her clients have been subjected to racial taunts and harassment. She recounted an incident in Ellicott City.

"The neighbors were screaming at my clients and their children," she said. "The shouts were, 'Go back to Africa.' "

Spencer also questioned why Teresa Gibson, who backed her car on part of a neighbor's driveway, was charged with trespassing by the state's attorney's office, which declined to pursue assault charges against a neighbor who allegedly pointed a bow and arrow at her client's son.

State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon, who attended the meeting, said investigators concluded that the neighbor was not pointing a cocked arrow but was holding the bow in one hand and the arrow in the other.

"The facts of the case were not presented as [Spencer] presented them," McLendon said.

The Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Guilford, prefaced his welcoming remarks by mentioning an article Tuesday in The Sun detailing how parents of dozens of children from a Columbia neighborhood switched from Wilde Lake Middle School to Lime Kiln Middle in Fulton. Almost all of the children are white; Wilde Lake Middle is racially and economically diverse.

He criticized the practice, saying, "It's not equality, it's racism."

Another attorney, Kevin Lyskowski, criticized racial profiling that he said led to a humiliating search of an African-American woman and her two sons in December at the Learningsmith store in The Mall in Columbia.

"It's 'shopping while black' syndrome," Lyskowski said. "Nowadays, a black youth must learn to keep his hands in his pockets lest he be seen as a shoplifter."

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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