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Local NAACP wants voices to be heard

During a family celebration at Wheaton Park, black leaders said they believe local politicians ignore their community

During a family celebration at Wheaton Park, black leaders said they believe local politicians ignore their community

July 21, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

An NAACP Family Celebration at Wheaton Park in Hagerstown on Saturday featured several fun events and some strong messages for community members.

Two black leaders addressed about 100 people, telling them local politicians were ignoring their community and that had to stop.

"It's time to let elected officials and businesses know we should be included in all decisions to improve economically, educationally, by voter empowerment," the Rev. James Irvin, president of the Washington County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an interview. "For too long this community has been ignored by elected officials."

About 100 of the more than 250 people at the park off Sumans Avenue sat around the pavilion listening to Irvin and the invited speaker Del. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's.

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The local NAACP chapter was reactivated last October after being inactive a few years, Irvin said. Saturday's event had a strong showing thanks to networking efforts by organizers.

Irvin encouraged attendees to shop only at businesses that sponsored the event.

"Remember these people. If they didn't give you a piece of chicken or a soda, then don't shop there," Irvin said.

"You may call it playing hardball. You may call it threatening people, but you gotta do what you gotta do," Irvin told those gathered around the pavilion.

"It's time for this community to wake up and realize you have a voice, you have power," Irvin said.

Benson told attendees that state government officials don't know the NAACP is in Hagerstown and have "canceled us out."

Benson, who was raised in Hagerstown, told attendees they should vote for candidates based on their record, not on how much they like them.

After her speech, Benson said there was no excuse for area youngsters not to have an educational and recreational program.

Memorial Recreation Center offers such programs, but it's in financial straits, Executive Director Ruth Monroe said. The center, which serves about 50 children a day, didn't get as much funding from the United Way and the Washington County government this year so it's operating on a month-to-month basis, Monroe said.

Monroe said she plans to ask the City of Hagerstown for money for operating expenses. Usually, the city just helps Memorial Recreation by distributing federal Community Development Block Grants to the center, she said.

Benson said state, county and city officials have written off the community, putting it in deep neglect and allowing it to be "swamped in drugs."

In interviews after their speeches, Benson and Irvin both said they believed racial profiling was going on in Washington County, but gave no specific examples.

Hagerstown Police Lt. Margaret Kline said that, in her experience, the department has not singled people out for their race. She could not offer statistical support Saturday.

Starting in January, officers began filling out forms meant to track whether there is racial profiling. Police agencies throughout the state are supposed to do this by 2003, Kline said.

Hagerstown Police officers fill out the forms for certain traffic stops. Besides marking the person's race and gender, officers are to check off the reason for the stop, the duration, whether a search was conducted and whether it resulted in a citation, warning or arrest.

Those forms are sent to Internal Affairs for tallying, Kline said.

In recent years as racial profiling has been in the news, the department also has made an effort to educate officers and community members not to suspect someone of drug dealing or other crimes based on race, Kline said.

For a planned Aug. 1 Night Out event, the department is mailing invitations and brochures to help residents determine what constitutes suspicious activity that should be reported to police, Kline said. Those mailings will be sent to the Broadway/North Neighborhoods First area and the Bethel Gardens/Jonathan Street area.

Irvin also said he was concerned police were focusing on drug dealers and not on buyers.

Kline said the department conducts stings for dealers and buyers.

The day's picnic was about more than political messages.

After making serious efforts to get the word out about the event, organizer Ron Lytle was expecting as many as 400 people.

"It's going great. I think it's going to increase as the day gets older," Lytle said.

Children were playing basketball, getting their faces painted and playing horseshoes. Jump rope and hula hoop competitions were to be held later that afternoon.

Warlords Academy of Martial Arts gave a karate demonstration with students from Baltimore and Hagerstown.

The mentoring group Each One Teach One was also represented at the event. The group, started last August, has been holding events such as splash or pool parties and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament April through June while it raises money for its mentoring efforts, program coordinator Brian Robinson said.

Robinson and Jackie Spriggs are each mentoring 10 to 15 young people.

They hope to start teaching people how to be mentors by the end of the year, Robinson said.

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