Friday, November 1, 2002

Neighborly un-love

Race issues play out on playground


It's just a little playground, less than a block square, with shiny new swings and equipment for climbing.

In a family-oriented neighborhood like Angela Spiller's in Covington, that 2-month-old play area should be a godsend. Instead it's a curse.

Ms. Spiller, an African-American nurse and mother of five, says two of her small children were assaulted there by the children of a neighboring white family and that parents urged them on, yelling racial slurs.

But it is Ms. Spiller who on Monday was charged with making "terroristic threats," a misdemeanor.

Police say this isn't a racial issue, but a conflict among kids that escalated. Ms. Spiller says it's an ongoing case of ethnic intimidation that police have failed to stop. And a member of the white family accused of racism says they're victims of intimidation, too.

Unwelcome neighbors

This case is the second in a month to reveal racial problems in Covington.

Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors unsealed indictments against a white mother, her 22-year-old son and two of his friends for allegedly intimidating another black family into moving from their Covington neighborhood.

The charges say the four gathered outside the black family's home; played loud music full of racial epithets; made racial slurs, threats and Nazi salutes; and broke windows and lights. There also was an alleged assault with a baseball bat.

Covington police confirmed that they responded to 20 calls there between March 2001 and May 2002.

The conflict between Ms. Spiller and the white neighbor family is on a smaller scale but building. Parties on both sides disagree about what happened.

It's clear effective intervention is needed.

Five weeks ago, Ms. Spiller says, an 8-year-old neighbor boy threw stones at her son, called him the n-word, and chased him home with a long kitchen knife. Another neighbor and Ms. Spiller's 16-year-old daughter called police.

Officers talked with both families, but no report was filed.

White people's park

Monday evening, Ms. Spiller says, her 4-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, and a 4-year-old playmate, who also is black, were punched and kicked by a girl they believed is the neighbor boy's sister. The boy's parents, meanwhile, urged the girl on, using the n-word and b-word, saying that the playground "belonged to whites," say Ms. Stiller and Dawn Nealey, mother of the other 4-year-old.

Ms. Spiller called police, who talked with both families. The officers informed Ms. Spiller that she was the problem.

Ms. Spiller angrily walked into her home, saying since police won't help she'd take care of it herself. She dialed the police department again and asked to speak with a desk sergeant.

Before she could talk to him, the two officers barged into her home, knocking her kids over in the process, and handcuffed her, she says. The officers wouldn't tell her why she was being arrested and never read her her rights, she says.

She was jailed for five hours, until friends paid $200 bail. The arrest report says police warned her three times about making threats, but she had said, "If they come back down here, they won't ever come down here again."

The neighboring white family has filed a civil complaint against Ms. Spiller. They say their children harmed no one at the playground, nor did they utter racial slurs.

Police Capt. David L. Finan Sr. says this is a feud, not a race conflict. He wouldn't comment on his officers' behavior, saying he hadn't spoken with them.

He said Mrs. Spiller is being irate.

E-mail or phone 768-8395.

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