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Monday, July 18, 2005

As minorities move to suburbs, hate follows

Detroit Free Press:

Racial tensions rise with population changes

They've had enough.

For three years, Reginald and Lori Doster have put up with racial slurs, KKK graffiti and an arson attack that terrified their daughter.

So next month, the African-American couple plan to leave their Taylor home, taking with them bitter memories of living on a predominantly white block.

The Taylor case is one of a string of recent incidents in which black people are being greeted with racial violence after they move into neighborhoods with no or few African Americans. With Detroit's black population increasingly leaving the city for the suburbs, it's a problem some fear may continue. And it comes at a time when the issue of minorities moving in next door has become widely debated.

On June 29, ABC-TV canceled a series it had been hyping called 'Welcome to the Neighborhood,' a reality show that featured white evangelical Christians choosing from a diverse group of families to move into a home on their block. Some of the episodes ABC had planned to air showed white neighbors making bigoted statements toward minorities. After pressure from fair-housing groups, the network pulled the series.

In metro Detroit meanwhile, a series of anti-black incidents in recent weeks has raised concerns with civil rights groups, police and residents.

'It's ridiculous that someone in this country would have to deal with this,' Reginald Doster, a computer administrator, said at his Taylor home last week. 'You're dealing with ignorance.'

•In Trenton two weeks ago, police reported that two crosses were burned on consecutive nights on the lawn of a home owned by an African-American man who moved in the week before with his white wife and their two children.

•In Warren last month, an African-American family came home to discover someone had trashed their house and scrawled its walls with white-power slogans.

Police continue to investigate both incidents, but such cases can often be hard to solve. In the Trenton incident, police nabbed two men shortly after the second cross-burning, but released them. They're now waiting for the lab results of some evidence, said Lt. Greg Plagens. In Warren, police are waiting for lab results, said Sgt. Jeff Knoblauch.

In the Doster case on Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced a 33-year-old Taylor man, Michael Richardson, to four years in prison for lying during a grand jury investigation into an arson at the home. No one has been charged in the arson. But federal investigators say Richardson lied about who may have set the fire.

According to court records, days after the Dosters bought the home, someone broke a window and poured gasoline through it. Much of the home was damaged.

"This fire was just a part of a months-long campaign to drive the Dosters out of the neighborhood," said federal prosecutors in a report. The Dosters spent thousands of dollars to clean up the home and redecorate it. In October 2002, someone scrawled "KKK" on the side of their home.

And in the months following, investigators and the Dosters said, the pattern continued. Kids taunted Lori Doster with racial slurs, and someone tore up their tires.

The harassment took a psychological toll. Reginald Doster had trouble sleeping. The couple's daughter, who was 9 at the time of the arson attack, was afraid to sleep in her bedroom, which faced the back of the house. And their 14-year-old son, who had been an honor student, saw his grades slip.

"I didn't understand it," said their daughter, Vianca, about the arson attack.

Her mother, Lori Doster, added, "She didn't know what race was."

"Until we moved here," said Reginald Doster.

Some of their white neighbors acknowledge that there is some racism in the area, but they say what happened to the Dosters was wrong.

"I hear people talking, you hear people saying" a racial slur, said Audrey Emery, 67, who is white and lives a couple of houses down from the Dosters. "My feeling is I have nothing against blacks ... I know a lot of black people. We're like brothers and sisters."

Emery said she felt bad when the Dosters' home was attacked.

"This is a free country. You can move where you want," she said. "It's just wrong."

It's also against the law, say civil rights activists. But when the racial demographics of a community change, violence may increase, said an official with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In metro Detroit, the problem of black people encountering racial violence when they move into white neighborhoods goes back decades, say historians. One day in September 1925, a mob of hundreds of whites rushed the Detroit home of Ossian Sweet, a black doctor, who had just moved into a white neighborhood. And during the post-war era, many blacks were hassled after moving into all-white blocks.

In Trenton, Warren and Taylor, as with other Detroit suburbs, from 1990 to 2000 the African-American population increased, according to U.S. census figures. In Taylor, the African-American population jumped 93%, to almost 9% of the city's population, compared to 4% in 1990.

"It sort of goes in phases," said Shanna Smith, head of the National Fair Housing Alliance, about such incidents. Her Washington, D.C.-based group helped convince ABC to drop the controversial TV show about minorities moving into a white neighborhood. The local office of the alliance receives about 150 complaints of housing bias every year, but that figure also includes cases in which blacks and other minorities are denied opportunities to move into a neighborhood.

Across the state, there were 276 hate crimes related to race and ethnicity in Michigan for 2003, according to the FBI. But it's unclear which of those specifically dealt with minorities moving into white suburbs.

James Netter, a real estate agent from Wayne who is African American, said government must deal strongly with racial attacks. He remembers that in 1996, a church in Wayne with a largely African-American congregation was defaced with swastikas. The recent incidents concern him.

"My daughter is there in Iraq fighting for democracy and freedom, and yet she couldn't come to Trenton and buy a house in peace," said Netter. "What hypocrisy."

White residents are also upset by the racism.

"There's no place in society for those acts," said Heather Holland, pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Trenton. "It just saddens me and makes me angry."

For the Dosters, a sort of resignation has set in. In their family room lies a stack of cardboard boxes they will soon fill to move into a Taylor neighborhood they hope will be more accommodating.

"I'm still ticked off, but what can you do?" said Reginald Doster. "This is what happens in America."


Blogger Wild Bill said...

My qualifications to comment on this are as follows: We are the only white family in my neighborhood. For many blocks..
I also live in the South (Texas), and this is happening in the north.. I dont qualify anyone as a good citizen by color, but by character.. Hate and racial laws have applied to those who, by their actions and responses have put them at odds with those of different colors..
Example: A black person is a crack dealer.. He sells his product to a white, underage child.. The parent finds out and takes offense and assaults the black drug dealer.. The white parent faces not assault charges, but the offense of a hate crime, with very much stiffer punishment..
Were it reversed, ie: white drug dealerVSblack parent, there would be no hate crime stipulation..
Why should there be any difference in how a person protects his family from the criminal elements of society ??
In the bid to bring equality to the masses, maybe the deck has been stacked !! If true equality is to be had, then maybe the field needs to be equal.. Suppose that in the 1960's America, that a black man brought to trial, would be facing twice the sentence of a white man, for the same crime, DEMANDED by law.. Would that not be proof-positive of descrimination ??
Now to the direct issue at hand: The black family in a predominantly white neighborhood..
Did the black family planning to make a major investment in a house and move, not do research and investigate the new community they were planning to move to ?? How would you describe this situation ?? Poor planning or just a "kiss my ass, I'm here, deal with it" attitude ??
I got news for em, Johnny Cash's neighbors didnt welcome him too greatly either, when he moved in and planted cotton in all his flower beds !!

7/20/2005 03:54:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Well well, Wild Bill. Welcome to Warsaw Station and thanks for the thoughtful post.

First of all, let me make clear that in this post I was not necessarily advocating hate-crime legislation, but rather the continuing problem of race as American society grows and changes.

I agree that hate-crime legislation is problematic, but I support it, because I believe that hate crimes - where intention is clear and can be established - must be nipped in the bud and discouraged even more strongly than other crimes, due to the integrated nature of our society (and its dependence on integration!). The example you give, where a white parent is charged with a hate crime for assaulting a black drug-dealer, I believe is out of hate-crime territory, and cannot be proven. I would certainly vote against conviction of such a crime if I were on any jury. Do you know of such an actual example in reality? If so, send me a link please. It probably has happened though, now that I think about it, and the potential for such miscarriages of justice must be eliminated - a better understanding of the intention of the suspect would be enough.

I think that we can agree that in the Free Press story, the racial intentions of the criminals is clear. These are not "random" crimes.

I can also sympathize (not empathize) with your predicament. I myself grew up in a pretty white-bread neighborhood of suburban Detroit, although now it's peppered with Indian and East-asian Americans. There are a few blacks, but not so many. I did however, go to a very integrated high school, where Muslims and Jews ate at the same lunchtable and played on the same football teams.

But I've had several white friends from inner-city Detroit who tell horror stories of being beaten up at school, etc, because they were white. This too, in my view, constitutes a hate crime and should be prosecuted as such. Hate crime legislation should apply to all race categories.

Your final point about the family doing "research" on the community is misplaced however, and I totally disagree. One should not have to "research" a community to see if it's racist or not before one moves in. It ought to be taken for granted that in America when you join a community, that community won't reject you simply on the basis of your skin. These crimes IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM are the fault or the responsibility of this family, which just wanted to live and work in peace like you or I.

7/20/2005 11:29:00 AM  

Blogger Redneck Texan said...

Its funny how you cant legislate thought, thought is based more on observed facts than societal wishes.

Making racism illegal is like making love or jealousy illegal. Every human that has ever lived harbored some degree of racism. We may not be born that way but somewhere along the line, usually early in life, facts tend to make us that way......all of us.

7/20/2005 08:40:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

But if you crack down hard on racist crimes, you prevent more of them, just like you can't legislate against anti-Americanism, but you can crack down on terrorism.

7/21/2005 06:30:00 PM  

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