Another racial incident, and the lid could blow off
PhiladelphiaTribune, July 21, 1981
By BECKY HOLZINGER
(Special To The Tribune)
For the second time in two months, the minority community of Lancaster, Pa., is up in arms concerning a racial confrontation with police that prompted an ongoing investigation by a state agency.
The latest in a series of racial incidents in this city occurred on the eve of July 4 when police responded to a firecracker complaint in the 300 block of S. Broad St., an area heavily populated by Puerto Ricans.
Residents of the area allege that police began clearing the streets with their nightsticks using unnecessary violence and making numerous racial slurs, calling the residents Spicks and making references to all Puerto Ricans being on welfare.
Five residents of the area were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Mrs. Maria Sanchez, of Valley Stream, N.Y., was visiting her brother in Lancaster at the time of the incident and was one of those arrested. Ms. Sanchez has filed a citizens complaint against the Lanacster Police prompting an internal investigation. Ms. Sanchez also stated that she and the other defendants were not read their Miranda rights, were denied phone calls and were not told why they were being detailed.
Luis Villa, an employee of a Lancaster radio station and a community leader, met with four of the defendants to take legal action against the police and mayor. The group also issued a statement to the press on Monday.
The statement said in part, We the people involved in the Friday night, July 3 incident, demand justice for the racist act of the officers involved in this incident. We demand that the mayor, the City Council and the chief of police take action and not ignore the unfair acts against Hispanics and Blacks over these many, many years.
Villa stated that this was not the first time citizens had come forward with complaints of police brutality, But, he said, this is the first time we have it in such great magnitude. Were talking about two or three blocks of people standing there. The police pushed it. The police take the law into their own hands and nothing is ever done.
The defendants statement continued, This time the police department has gone too far and we have eyewitnesses and enough people involved to make this the last time that police brutality will occur in our city. There was no serious problem on Broad St. before July 3. These officers were the ones that caused the near-riot situation and this is not the first time it has happened in this city.
Racial tensions in this city are very high. On May 1 there was a lynching attempt by three white men on Robert Henderson. The community was upset over the lack of concern demonstrated by the police, and the local newspaper coverage of the incident which dwelt on the victims past criminal record. The State Attorney Generals office is currently investigating.
Four days later, the Lancaster New Era, a daily afternoon paper, ran a notice of a Klan meeting on page two. Community meetings were organized and Herbert Watson, executive director of the Lancaster Urban League, went to the mayor, the police and the editor of the newspaper.
Viewing Lancaster as a potential tension situation, the State Human Relations Commission is investigating the incident and sent State Field Representative Frank Smith.
Ive heard allegations from 35 people all saying the same things. Smith helped Ms. Sanchez file her complaint and said she felt it was a life-threatening situation. They kept her in a cell, did not read her her rights and did not allow her a phone call. She expressed a fear for their lives.
There are a lot of concerns with the police in this community, stated Watson. Im advocating that someone from the outside, even the FBI, should be brought in to investigate.
Tensions are high here. I really believe we are sitting on a powder keg. Another spark and it could turn into a riot. Just one more little incident could do it.