Hundreds at Gathering Condemn Racial Epithets

By Arthur Santana
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005

St. Mary's residents angry about racist graffiti spray-painted in the county last week gathered Monday near Lexington Park to denounce the epithets. And police promised to capture those responsible for the grafitti.

Nearly 200 people filled the pews at Zion United Methodist Church near Lexington Park to listen to a host of speakers condemn the spray-paintings, which were found Feb. 26 and 27 in the snow on the grounds of the Minority Business Alliance on Three Notch Road and on a car in a neighborhood behind the building.

Minority business owners in St. Mary's County, most of them black, gather at the building once a month. The building also houses an office of the St. Mary's County Branch of the NAACP, said its president, William Bowman.

The letters "KKK," the word "Kills" and the warning "[A racial epithet for African Americans] will die!" were written in the snow. In a trailer park neighborhood behind the building the same person probably spray-painted a swastika on the door of a car that belongs to a black man, said Lt. Brian Cedar, commander of the Maryland State Police Leonardtown barrack. The State Police and the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office are investigating the graffiti.

Bowman, who organized Monday's noontime meeting at the church, called the spray-paintings "hate crimes . . . designed to hurt as many people as possible, and that hurt remains long after the graffiti has been removed."

Cedar said such graffiti are rare in St. Mary's County. Even though authorities have no suspects in the case, he said, he is confident that whoever is responsible will be caught in the next week or two.

"A person who does something like this is bound to brag about it, and we're bound to hear about it," Cedar said. Addressing the gathering in the church earlier, Cedar promised that police would find the people who left the graffiti.

"We will find out who the cowards are behind this and bring them to justice," Cedar told the congregation and others at the church, who on a few occasions during the meeting were so moved by the often-spirited public comments that they burst into gospel hymns.

Some speakers recalled the plight of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement's critical years of the 1960s.

St. Mary's County commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) took the pulpit after Bowman and condemned the graffiti.

"I speak on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners and the citizens of this county in denouncing these hate crimes," McKay said. "It's absolutely wrong, and there is no place for it in St. Mary's County. If we cannot live in co-existence, it will be co-destruction."

Although some St. Mary's county commissioners called the graffiti "bumps in the road," other speakers were more emphatic.

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