November 11, 1997 in City

Fighting Hate Racism Is Increasing To Level Task Force Hasn’t Seen In Years

By The Spokesman-Review
 

As Ronald Bell shook hands Monday with President Clinton at the White House Conference on Hate Crimes, his North Idaho College campus was being littered with Aryan Nations propaganda.

While the Marine sextet played for the president’s guests, an Asian-American family in Post Falls was waking up in a new residence, after telling police that skinheads had harassed them so much they moved. And Cindy Swift, a fed-up Post Falls parent, debated how to tell school board members she was pulling her son from high school, saying he’s been targeted by racists.

Bell, NIC’s interim president, made a timely visit to the national hate crime conference. Kootenai County’s Task Force on Human Relations is reporting that an Aryan Nations propaganda campaign has intensified in recent months to a level the watchdog group hasn’t seen in years.

“I’m not happy about being targeted,” said Marshall Mend, one of two task force members singled out in a flier distributed in Coeur d’Alene and Hayden Lake last weekend. “It puts me and my family in jeopardy.”

Over the past two weeks, Mend had helped find new housing for a Filipino man, his wife and 4-year-old son, who reported being targeted by a group of skinheads living in Post Falls.

The couple, who both grew up in Post Falls, received racist fliers in the mail and at their door with “you could be next” messages.

On Halloween, the family’s neighbors in a house across the street reportedly displayed a pumpkin with a swastika carved into it. The family told police they decided to move last week after one of the neighbors tapped at the window of their car, pointing at them menacingly.

The FBI, Post Falls police and Kootenai County’s prosecutor are investigating whether Idaho’s malicious harassment laws were violated.

The Rev. Bob Hasseries, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Coeur d’Alene, said some of his parishioners are concerned about the developments. Particularly disturbing, Hasseries said, are reports that a “parade of junior high boys” regularly visits a Post Falls house where skinheads live.

“Our suspicion is that these adult skinheads are training these junior high kids.”

Police confirm an increase in racist activity. One Post Falls High School student openly displays Aryan propaganda and there’s been Aryan Nations literature left in cars, lockers and hallways, said campus police Officer Brett Chapman.

“It’s something we need to look at under a microscope,” he said.

Cindy Swift enrolled her son, who is white, elsewhere after a disagreement over a class project escalated into six weeks of harassment. Her son told a class project partner that his racial slurs were “uncool.” The disagreement turned into a fight, with both boys suspended for three days.

Upon return, her son’s locker was broken into, he was hassled going to and from class, threatened and taunted by the group of four boys who insisted he was Mexican, Swift said.

Her anger boiled over when her son reported the he’d been nearly run down in the school parking lot when a carload of boys sped toward him, Swift said, spinning the car around toward him after he jumped out of its path.

She went to the police, and set out to uncork the school district’s silence about what she believes is a growing racism problem.

“I told the school a month ago, ‘You have a problem starting in your school that is really going to escalate and I think you need to get a hold of this now,”’ Swift told The Spokesman-Review Monday. “They are trying to keep it quiet but they can’t because it’s getting out of control. Somebody’s got to take a stand and stop it.”

At Monday night’s school board meeting, Post Falls Superintendent Richard Harris said the district reported one Aryan Nations propaganda distribution in the high school to police this fall. He pledged to further investigate Swift’s claims.

Local law enforcement and the FBI aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on the group.

“There are 300 other members of the task force and we are not alone in opposing this kind of behavior,” Hasseries said.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said Monday his office is working with Post Falls police to establish whether harassment against the Post Falls couple fits the criteria for a hate crime that can be prosecuted.

NIC President Bell, in an interview from Washington, D.C., Monday, said the recent events in North Idaho “tell me why I’m here getting my battery charged even more” to combat bigotry.

“I’m coming back inspired to be even more outspoken,” Bell said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: N. Idaho is exhibit A for hate meeting

See 2 related stories under the headlines:

1. Education important in fighting hate crimes

2. Mood hopeful after Clinton conference

IDAHO HEADLINE: N. Idaho is exhibit A for hate meeting

See 2 related stories under the headlines: 1. Education important in fighting hate crimes 2. Mood hopeful after Clinton conference


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