2008-08-22 Grand Haven Tribune "Petition drive backs victims of racial slurs"

Petition drive backs victims of racial slurs
By: Megan Schmidt
Grand Haven Tribune

Ethnic Diversity Alliance wants community to know that racism isn’t tolerate in Ottawa County

PARK TOWNSHIP – Gail Harrison wants people to know that an ethnic slur painted on the driveway of a Park Township family’s home earlier this week does now reflect how most residents feel about diversity.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance started an anti-racism pledge and is encouraging individuals, churches and businesses to sign it.

“It’s to let this community know that we will not be painted with this brush of racism by an individual or small group of individuals,” said Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. “Most of us are very concerned about racial acceptance and are committed to ensuring that all people are welcome and safe in our community.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is asking people to sign the following statements either in hardcopy form or electronically.: “Not here. Not now. Not ever again.”

For more information on the petition, visit www.ethnicdiversity.org.

The Robinson family was one of several along North Bristol Street in Park Township who awoke Monday morning to find damage to their property.

Lt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said the department received at least a half dozen calls from other homeowners on North Bristol Street who reported broken windows and graffiti on their property.

The sheriff’s office continues to search for the suspects, Bennett said Thursday. “It’s still too early to tell if this would be considered racial or ethnic intimidation, until we determine the suspects’ intent,” Bennett said. “But we are investigating it as destruction of property and trying to find out if it’s racially motivated.”

Bennett said detectives and deputies were talking to residents in hopes of finding information that will lead to the suspects.

Calls to the Robinson family were not returned Thursday.

Harrison said that within two hours of sending out the first press releases about the petition, her inbox was full of responses. Harrison and a co-worker already had received about 65 signatures each, she said.

Harrison said she encourages leaders of businesses and the faith community contact the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance or visit its Webs its to distribute the pledge sheets.

“We’re really looking for organizations to take the lead here,” she said. In addition to the petition, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is also organizing a part at Winstrom Park, 160th Avenue and Perry Street.

An overlook at the park was damaged with graffiti and carvings a day after the racial slur was discovered.

“We brainstormed about 30 ideas and talked about a block party initially,” Harrison said. “But since there is a park right around the corner from the family, we thought that would provide a place where people can come together and have music,
games, speakers and food.”

A date had not yet been set for the party.

In collaboration with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Harrison said the group will also be organizing community and school forums on hate crimes. Harrison hopes to feature victims of hate crimes in the forums.

“It’s critical for the community to understand what hate crimes are and what the consequences are,” she said