By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE May 16, 2006 "Make them stop calling us n------" was the hot topic at Wednesday's town hall meeting at the Woodland Townhouse community in Loch Sheldrake, a meeting organized by the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission.
In the wake of an increasing number of complaints to the management and the Fallsburg Police Department by residents of the federally-subsidized housing complex, Sullivan County Legislator Leni Binder called for a get-together, chaired by the county's human rights commissioners.
N----- is more than a nasty word it can be a crime and those who think they can hurl it with impunity can be arrested for harassment and a earn a chance to tell it to the judge or get sued in civil court.
According to several long-term residents, the trouble started brewing a couple of years ago when a few white families moved into the community and soon started calling their mostly black and/or bi-racial neighbors n----- and other inflammatory racial/ethnic slurs.
Tenants are quick to point out that the problems started before the arrival of Woodland's new manager, Billie Lohr, last July.
"I'm just the manager. I'm trying to get something done," she said. "Time and time again, I've asked for complaints in writing. . . . All I can do is send out memos. It's sick."
On Friday, April 21, Lohr sent out a letter to all residents telling them that in the last week, she'd received 20 complaints about "violent acts and racial remarks being shouted out between tenants."
The warning letter stated in part that racial slurs "will no longer be tolerated. If you cannot get along with your neighbors, to the point where you are disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of others, you will be turned over to our attorney for eviction due to lease violations!"
Amy L. Beasley, executive director of the local human rights commission, chaired the meeting.
"In situations like this, everyone has their own perception," she said. "We need to learn how to alleviate the tension, and we need to hear individually what happened."
And with that, several black tenants began to talk about what was happening in their community.
Mabel Copeland, 75, has lived there for about nine years, and when she invited her two bi-racial grandchildren up from Virginia for a visit, was appalled to hear a woman reportedly the source of a lot of complaints open up her window and yell at the kids who were playing basketball: "You little black n------, get away from my window!"
"We don't need that," said Copeland. "I wanted to slap her face. I wanted to hit her, so help me God. It was really bad."
She said that two units from the Fallsburg Police Department arrived in response to her call.
Arnell Anthony attended the meeting with her daughter Nicole and her baby and said she has good reason to speak out.
"I've been here nine years, and the members of about five families call us n------," she said.
During the weekend of April 15-16, her nephew was involved in a fight in the wake of hearing another tenant use a racial slur.
Nicole Anthony said verbal confrontations are escalating into physical altercations and that a resident was arrested after a call went out about "a black man with a bow and arrow, a sword and a gun" in an incident that was reportedly sparked by racial slurs from a white tenant.
"The cops are here constantly but nobody does anything about it," Amanda Postell added.
Several sources reported that at least three white residents have posted derogatory comments about their black neighbors on the myspace.com Website, including direct references to the KKK.
One meeting participant said of the chances of getting the people causing the problems to work it out: "There's an old saying that you can't make a leopard change it's spots, but you can skin it."
According to Det. Sgt. Simmie Williams of the Fallsburg PD, if people feel subjected to racial slurs or harassment that causes turmoil within their family or affects them personally, they can file a complaint with law enforcement and/or institute a lawsuit against the alleged violator.
"If we don't stop this now, one thing can lead to another," he said.
The officer will be back from training on Tuesday (today) and told the audience, "Come in and see me, sign a complaint form and we can go from there."
"We have to break the cycle," said Eric Chaboty, Sullivan County Undersheriff. "People are afraid to name names, but we need people to step up and isolate these people and make them feel like the outsiders."
He added that local judges take a hard stance on enforcing laws pertaining to racially-motivated harassment.
Lamae Little of the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) in Monticello said mediation was the key.
"The only way you're going to resolve this is to get [together with] these people and work it out," she said.
As a 72-year-old black woman, Little is no stranger to racism and slurs based on the color of her skin.
"I wouldn't tolerate it," she said. "Don't call me anything but Mrs. Little.
"We try to keep people out of court or jail," she added. "That's not the answer, but sometimes that's the only way. . . . As long as you do nothing, you're going to have to tolerate it."
Contacted after the meeting, Angel Lamboy, chief of the Fallsburg PD, described the situation not as a pattern of racial incidents, but isolated pockets of name-calling (with racial overtones).
"It's important that we get a handle on this early and work closely with the Fallsburg Police Department and the Human Rights Commission," said Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff.
"See me after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, sign a complaint and I'll take it to the judge," said Det. Sgt. Williams.
If you feel you have been subjected to harassment based on the color of your skin, contact any of the following agencies.
Fallsburg Police Department: 434-4422
Sullivan County Sheriff's Department: 794-7100
Sullivan County Human Rights Commission: 794-3000, ext. 3710
Dispute Resolution Center (DRC): 794-3377.