Montgomery County youths arrested for racially or religiously motivated acts of violence or intimidation will be sent to a minority awareness course and will be given counseling, beginningthis spring.
Joan Weiss, a community relations specialist with the county Human Relations Commission, told 250 parents attending a seminar last week that the 12-hour course will include discussion of the acts' impact on victims. Other plans still are being made under Weiss's supervision.
According to statistics compiled by the Human Relations Commission, 98 racially or religiously motivated incidents were reported in Montgomery last year--up from 25 cases the previous year. The majority of the cases involved white males between 12 and 17 years old, a police spokesperson said at the meeting, sponsored by the county council of PTAs.
The course will be administered through the county's community alternative service program for juvenile offenders. Youths arrested for acts of racial or religious violence who are directed into the alternative service program will be required to receive the counseling and attend the course in addition to any other community service that is ordered. After juvenile offenders are arrested they can be given a choice--by police, state youth workers or juvenile judges--of performing community work or standing trial.
The class is the latest of a number of steps taken this year by Montgomery County in its battle against what Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes has called an "intolerable increase" of racially and religiously motivated incidents in the state.
Plans for the course are being made "under the assumption that many of the offenders are not aware of the significance of their acts," said Weiss, who was appointed to the post last June to coordinate the county's response to the increase in incidents.
"There are two reasons for committing such acts," said Human Relations Commission official Freda Mauldin. "One is ignorance, . . . the other is an emotional need to hate or turn on other people. . . . The counseling will deal with this part of the psyche."
The new program, which administrators believe may be the only one of its kind in the nation, follows an intensive effort by county officials to publicize and defuse incidents commonly termed acts of "hate and violence".
County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist addressed a congressional hearing in November on the county's activities. Since this summer, police officers have been required to report every incident they suspect may have a racial or religious overtone. In the schools, teachers have been told to use social studies classes to focus on periods of intolerance and their implications.
"The most important step we can take is the step of education," Gilchrist told the group of parents who had braved one of the coldest nights of the year to attend the three-hour workshop. "We've got to explain to young people what these acts mean and how they tear this community apart."
In other discussions, parents at the meeting were advised to be aware of the "less blatant forms of bias." Those areas, said Stephen L. Tarason of the school system's human relations department, include discrimination on the basis of age and sex or against the handicapped.
"The main issue is attitudinal barriers," said Tarason. "We've got to combat sexism . . . and deal every other kind of 'ism' a death blow." In an effort to eliminate sex and handicap discrimination in the schools, Tarason said, two teachers have been appointed in each school to ensure that programs proceed without bias. In addition, the school system budgets about $200,000 each year to make some of the older school buildings more accessible to the handicapped.
"When you talk about problems of discrimination, you're talking about economic, political and social problems," Tarason said. "Therefore, you are talking about problems with our culture."