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Washington Co. advocates to participate in rally at Justice Department

November 13, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Members and supporters of the Washington County NAACP will join civil rights activists at the U.S. Justice Department Friday to call for action in response to recent incidents in Jena, La., Maryland and across the country.

The NAACP has declared a state of emergency in response to recent incidents, according to a news release from the organization's Baltimore branch.

"Things that have happened nationwide can happen locally, too," said Hampton Wedlock, vice president of the NAACP's local chapter.

"Just because it didn't happen in your backyard doesn't mean it couldn't happen in your backyard," Wedlock said.

NAACP members are going to lend some support to the Jena Six and demand the Justice Department look into the incident, said Samuel Key, president of the NAACP's local chapter.

The Jena Six refers to six black students in Louisiana who were charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate in December 2006. Civil rights advocates have called the charges disproportionate, according to published reports.

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The NAACP in Baltimore also cited the January death of 17-year-old Isaiah Simmons III as an assault against young African-Americas.

Simmons died at the now-closed Bowling Brook Preparatory School near Taneytown, Md., when counselors restrained Simmons and did not call 911 until 41 minutes after he stopped breathing, according to published reports.

Local churches have told members about Friday's rally, and Key announced it Saturday during a breakfast at the Elks Club on Jonathan Street, he said.

Key plans to attend Friday's noon rally, and buses will leave from Prime Outlets that morning, he said.

Wedlock has received calls from local residents alleging racial profiling in the area, and someone called him last week about a noose hanging in a tree on National Pike, Wedlock said.

Friday's rally is a stand of solidarity, he said.

When Washington County has dealt with racially motivated incidents, NAACP members from elsewhere supported local members, Key said.

A situation that centered around a former police officer who made racist threats against a Hagerstown City Councilwoman and black schoolchildren was one instance in which the local black community needed support, Key said.

Jeffrey Scott Shifler pleaded guilty in August 2006 to two federal civil rights charges connected to racist threats.

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