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What would Dr. King think?

Speakers at Charles Town event call for tougher hate-crime laws

Speakers at Charles Town event call for tougher hate-crime laws

January 14, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - While remarking that progress has been made in equality, speakers at a Martin Luther King Jr. event Sunday railed against issues like the torture a black woman suffered in southern West Virginia last year and questioned whether state lawmakers now have the courage to strengthen hate-crime laws.

Jim Tolbert, a Charles Town-area resident and former president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, talked about the torture Megan Williams endured when she was forced to eat rat droppings, choked with a cable cord and stabbed in the leg while enduring a racial slur, according to criminal complaints.

Her captors also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say.

Tolbert questioned whether state House of Delegate members and state Senate members will now toughen hate-crime laws.

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Tolbert's comments came during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Trail March in Ranson and Charles Town.

Dozens of marchers joined in the event as it went from Kingdom Life Cathedral on West Third Avenue in Ranson and proceeded to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church on South Charles Street in Charles Town.

About 50 people attended a Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance service at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church after the march.

Speakers pondered how King would react if he returned, and Tolbert said the famous civil rights leader would probably be "digging up some business" in the streets of America.

George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP, said King - an opponent of the Vietnam War - would be disappointed in the Iraq war.

Rutherford also faulted churches for falling down on their responsibilities and said ministers are turning their backs on communities.

"We've really fallen from grace," Rutherford said.

Speakers did find some reason to be thankful.

If King returned today, he would see a black man and a woman running for U.S. president, an advancement of equality he stood for, Rutherford said.

"I'm not sure who he would vote for, but at least he would be happy," Rutherford said.

Otis James, minister at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, questioned how some people have wondered if Barack Obama is qualified to be president.

James asked out loud if Hillary Clinton was qualified to be president.

"A law degree is a law degree," James said.

Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

While some politicians were getting heat at the service, praise was heaped on Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp, who was in attendance.

Surkamp is one who cares about the community and unlike some other politicians, will continue be involved long after an election is over, speakers said.

Marchers carried signs containing messages like "The 'N' word. Gone Forever."

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