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Man protesting county hiring bias arrested

December 23, 1997

Man protesting county hiring bias arrested

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

A man who said he had been turned down for three county jobs because he's black was arrested Tuesday morning as he protested on a bench in front of the Washington County Administration Building in downtown Hagerstown.

Lawrence H. Freeman, 53, of 429 N. Locust St., was frisked and handcuffed by police, who approached as he sat on a bench outside the building at 100 W. Washington St.

During his protest, Freeman held up a sheet of paper that said, "Washington County Commissioners won't hire black men."

Freeman, an investigator for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington County, was charged with refusing to leave a public building when asked to do so, said Hagerstown Police Sgt. Steve Bussard. He was taken before a District Court commissioner and was released on his own recognizance.

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Dwight Sullivan, a lawyer for the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in Baltimore, when contacted by telephone, said the First Amendment gives Freeman a legal right to protest on county property.

"As a member of the public, he has a right to be on public property," and could sue for violation of his civil rights, he said.

Freeman claimed that the county has hired no black men in the past 10 years.

County Human Resources Director Alan Davis said that claim was incorrect. He also said several minorities, including blacks, had been hired in the past few months.

Davis said Tuesday night he didn't know offhand how many minorities were employed by the county.

Freeman said he had applied for three jobs, including operator trainee at the Water and Sewer Department and Motor Equipment Operator III, and was not hired.

Freeman had been a part-time bus driver for County Commuter from 1983 to 1985, Davis said.

After police arrived, County Administrator Rodney Shoop offered to sit down and talk with Freeman about his complaint, but Freeman refused.

Shoop suggested that Freeman file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which investigates discrimination in hiring, if he believed he had a problem.

During the morning incident, Shoop told Freeman he would have to ask the police to arrest him if he didn't leave.

"You have no legal reason to be here," Shoop said to Freeman.

"I believe in what I'm doing," Freeman said as he was handcuffed by police.

A police officer said Freeman was frisked because he had been told Freeman might be armed.

"I guarantee if there was a white man sitting down here protesting, I guarantee that nobody would have said I might have a weapon," Freeman said. "Racism and fear go hand in hand. They are racist and they've got fear."

Freeman said he was causing no trouble. Shoop and Davis said Freeman on Monday posted papers in the county building. The papers said the commissioners won't hire black men. Both men described Freeman as behaving in a "belligerent" manner when Davis removed the papers.

Davis said he met with Freeman in April in an effort to address his concerns and at that time offered to get him help with job search skills, including resume writing.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, who said he didn't know Freeman, said a county job opening typically attracts 80 applicants, including dozens of qualified candidates. Snook said race isn't considered when the commissioners discuss who to hire.

A Hagerstown native, Freeman was quoted in a story published in July as saying that in the 1960s he participated in two marches, was arrested during a rally, witnessed two riots and protested in a sit-in that ended when a white employee of a downtown drug store poured milk over his head.

Staff Writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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