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Community shocked by racial vandalism

December 17, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

HALFWAY - Members of the community Wednesday condemned an act of racial vandalism at a home south of Hagerstown earlier this week, and law enforcement authorities continued to search for those responsible.

Marcia Cooper was at work Monday night when her daughter called her and said people were outside their house shouting racial epithets.

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Cooper said she left her job at Roy Rogers early and returned to her home at 17607 Oak Ridge Drive. When she got there, she said a window had been smashed with sticks and rocks and the outside walls had been painted with "KKK" and other racial slurs.

In addition, trash had been scattered throughout her back yard and lawn furniture had been torn up, Cooper said.

"They went ballistic back there," she said. "My kids were here. They were so terrified that they ran up into my room."

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Cooper, 31, said she has been harassed almost from the time she and her four children moved to Hagerstown in June 1997.

While she was living in Noland Village, her bicycle was sawed and her clothes line was ripped down, she said.

Cooper, who is black, moved her family to the home on Oak Ridge Drive in March. But she said she has faced racial harassment and her children have had to deal with hostility in school.

She said she complained in September that a school bus driver made a racial remark to her daughter.

Chris Carter, director of transportation for the Washington County school system, said he cannot remember the incident. But he said school officials take seriously all allegations of inappropriate language or conduct.

Cooper said she is fed up with Washington County and plans to move. Before she moved here, she said she struggled as a single mother raising four children in Silver Spring, Md.

"I was told, out here you could live a little bit better. They lied," she said. "I've never dealt with anything like this before I just wish it would stop."

The Washington County Sheriff's Department, which took a report of the incident on Monday night, said Wednesday that authorities were continuing to investigate the matter.

Cooper's children did not see those involved, but they heard more than one voice, 1st Sgt. Randy Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said deputies were checking into the possibility that the destruction was caused by youths from Lincolnshire Elementary School who Cooper said have caused trouble in the past.

Incidents of racially motivated vandalism are rare in Washington County, Wilkinson said.

"This is the first I remember in a while - months," he said.

Members of the community expressed outrage that such activity would occur in this county.

Richard Willson, director of the Washington County Housing Authority, said it should not be tolerated.

"We may feel that our community is immune to this kind of behavior," said Willson, whose agency grants rental assistance to Cooper.

Willson said people should be more vigilant in condemning racist language.

"We may let it go because we believe it's just words," he said. "Incidents like these are important reminders to voice our dismay whenever racist epithets are spoken."

For the next few days, deputies will make special patrols by Cooper's home, Wilkinson said.

"We'll do what we can for these folks," he said.

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