Friday, May 14, 2010

The KKK in Western PA

Joe and Mary Walbeck of West Wheatfield Township lived peacefully in their predominantly white neighborhood until Nov. 15, 2009, when they found the remnants of a 6-foot cross burned in their yard.
The Walbecks are white parents of an adopted black son, Shaquille Howard, 16, who came to live with the family three years ago, according to Mary Walbeck.
"We just fell in love with him, and we didn't want him to leave," said Walbeck from her home in a Feb. 18 phone interview.
After seeing the cross, she was "dumbfounded" and became fearful, she said. If a criminal would trespass in her yard, she did not know where the person would stop.
Her foster son responded to the incident with disbelief.
"I thought it was a joke," Howard said from his home in a phone interview on Feb. 9. "We found out later that it wasn't a joke. It hurt me, actually."
Walbeck said her neighbors were equally shocked by the cross burning.
"Everyone thinks it's terrible, or just wrong, to do something like that to a kid," Walbeck said.
On Jan. 22, the FBI took over the case. The lead investigator is Special Agent Sonia Bush, who said in a Feb. 18 phone interview that she cannot speak about the ongoing investigation.
The FBI identified a person of interest in the cross burning. Walbeck said that the man is the grandson of a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, the organization's national leader. Walbeck said the investigation is dragging on, and no arrests have been made.
"The longer this goes on, it just gets worse," Walbeck said.
Walbeck said investigators have released no new information since November. She added that she expressed her concern to Bush.
"She says all the right things," Walbeck said. "But they don't make you feel a lot better."
Walbeck said her adopted son is a caring member of the community.
"He's athletic, very social, easy to get along with, leader-type kid," Walbeck said.
She said that news articles portraying Howard as a troubled child are innacurate, and that Howard makes significant contributions to his community, she added.
"He has educated us all," Walbeck said.
Walbeck said her adopted son's contributions will affect the country, and that he will be elected president.
"He'll be somebody someday," she said.

Shaquille Howard (left) with his brother Chauncy Howard. (Photo from Facebook)

Criminal Racism
Cross burning is a hate crime. A hate crime is defined as a crime motivated by a bias against a race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.
Hate crimes include murder, rape, assault, intimidation, robbery, arson and vandalism with a discriminatory motive.
Americans committed 13,690 hate crimes in 2008, according to the FBI ( Of these, 51.3 percent were racially motivated. Of those, 72.6 were committed against blacks.
The number of hate crimes increased nationwide between 2004 and 2008, according to the FBI crime statistics. Incidents increased from 7,649 in 2004 to 7,783 in 2008, an increase of 1.8 percent.

Racism at IUP
Racism is evident elsewhere in Indiana county, residents say.
Devvon J. Horn, 20, an IUP sophomore from Philadelphia, said both white and black students "disliked" his relationship with a white student.
Students wrote discriminatory remarks on a white board attached to his dorm room door, he said in a Feb. 16 interview in Putt Hall.
Horn also said two of his friends were walking to dinner in the fall 2009 semester when white men shouted racist slurs from a window of Delaney suites.
Clifton J. Hardison, 21, a former student and Indiana resident, said he experienced more racism in Indiana than in his hometown, Harrisburg. He said a fight broke out at New Year's Eve party at IUP.
"A white guy called my boy a n*****," said Hardison in a Feb. 16 phone interview.
Dr. Susan R. Boser, IUP sociology professor, is striving to end discrimination on campus.
"I came close to it because I saw a need," Boser said in Stouffer Hall her office on Feb. 19. "I have strong opinions on equity and social justice."
Boser spoke of a black Muslim student who wore a head scarf to class.
"In the middle of the night, somebody wrote 'n*****' on her door," Boser said.
In summer of 2008, one of Boser's advisees was accused of academic misconduct.
"She said it wasn't her. I listened to her story, and I believed her," Boser said. "I had so much respect for her."
The university judge determined that the wrong student was accused. A different black student was guilty.
"It was, essentially, an act of discrimination, that they all look alike," Boser said.
Dr. Roger Briscoe, professor and adviser of the NAACP at IUP, said less than 30 of the 750 IUP faculty members at IUP are black, about 4 percent. Thirteen percent of students are from a racial minority.
"In order for there to be a resolve in racism, there has to be a change in attitudes," Briscoe said in his Stouffer Hall office on Feb. 22. "If there's going to be a change, it has to start in schools."
Briscoe said the Klan is active in Punxsutawney and that the majority of students on IUP's campus there are black.
"Of all the places to put an extension campus," Briscoe said, "Punxsutawney is the worst."
Charles M. Simelton, 23, is a black student from Philadelphia who transferred from the Punxsutawney campus in 2007.
"It was crazy that they would put us there," Simelton said in the Stapleton Library at IUP.
Simelton compiled a list of his experiences with racism at Punxsutawney. On his first day on campus, he said a young girl pointed at him and said, "Hey, Mommy, there is a nigger!"
"The mom just laughed and acted as if nothing was wrong," Simelton said. "That was crazy."
He said he was grocery shopping when a girl turned to her friends and said some black people were hanged a few miles outside of the city and hoped Simelton and his friend would be next.
He said a KKK meeting house was about two miles from campus. One of his friends, a black Muslim, unintentionally signed a lease for an apartment next door to the meeting house. Simelton suspected that the landlord was "trying to set her up."
He said Punxsutawney students were warned by faculty not to walk around at night. They carried BB guns to protect themselves. He said some of his friends were chased by men in pick-up trucks.
"We honestly walked around scared at night," Simelton said.

The Ku Klux Klan in the 21st Century
The Ku Klux Klan experienced membership growth in the mid-Atlantic regions from Maryland to New York in the 2000's, according to the Anti-Defamation League (
The ADL was founded to fight anti-semitism but now promotes civil rights for all groups. There are 30 offices throughout the country. The ADL, based in Washington, D.C., is funded through donations.
The ADL estimates that 5,000 Klansmen are active in more than 40 Klan groups, many with multiple chapters called "klaverns."
The World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan originated in Sharpsburg, Md., and spread to Pennsylvania, according to the ADL. The World Knights lead statistically in recruiting new members and organizing racist events. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware comprise Federal District 3 of the KKK, according to the KKK Web site (
This Web site allows prospective Knights to join for a yearly donation of $35. The site also hosts a store ( which sells merchandise with slogans such as "The Original Boyz N The Hood: Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" and "Klan Kids Kare."
The site also links to the Internet television show "This is the Klan" (  The Black History Month edition for February, 2010, opens with sarcastic comments about black contributions to the United States.
"We would not be a nation today if it wasn't for the black leaders who built this nation in Philadelphia in 1787. They were all black, weren't they?" says Thomas Robb, national director of the Knight's Party as he turns to his co-host, Rachel Pendergraft on the Web show.
Pendergraft is the Premier Spokeswoman for The Knights Party. Her response was that the history books may say that the nation's founders were black in a few years.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life on the Pittsburgh Streets

    Carl Harris grew up in a house that he can clearly see from the place he spends the weekend. Harris begs on Saturdays and Sundays in Pittsburgh's Strip District, at the base of the hill where he was raised. He tries to make 42 dollars by the time the bus comes at 3 p.m. so he can stay in a motel near West Mifflin.
    Harris has two daughters, ages 30 and 9. One lives in South Carolina, and the other lives in the Hill District with her mother, he said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    Harris lost his left arm and left leg at age 10 when he was run over by a train. "I was playing on freight trains and fell off," he said. He has a positive demeanor, offering a smile that shows several missing teeth to passerbys. He welcomed the sunshine instead of cursing the hot day.
    This gives me something to do -- keeps me busy," he said. "Is this what you do in your leisure time?" he asked, laughing and motioning toward the camera. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

   "I hope you like Pepsi," says a man bringing Harris a meal of roast chicken and fries. He invited Harris to an outreach for hungry people called "The Table," held at the Hot Metal Bridge Church on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.
    "People are pretty nice out here," Harris said. "You want some of this?" he asked with a grin as he opened his plastic fork with his one arm and few remaining teeth. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    A man sneaks a glance at Harris' change cup, walking swiftly by, while a girl points toward Harris with a look of disgust. The majority of people pretended not to notice Harris, though some openly acknowledged him, either positively or negatively.
    One time last year, a police officer told Harris he was not allowed on the Strip. "I transferred, and then came back," Harris said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)
    Harris looks out on the crowds of people walking by, some dressed in church clothes, others with designer purses and high-heeled boots. He started begging in the Strip District four years ago, and many pedestrians recognize him, saying they will see him next Sunday.
    "I think sometimes that's a good thing, in case I get in trouble or something," he said.
    He is saving up to get an apartment in the city, and is taking classes during the week to earn his G.E.D. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    "This is the hardest part," Harris said. "Cleaning up after you're finished." He hobbles across the street on one crutch, avoiding cars to redeposit his chair, a milk crate. He then returns to pick up every scrap of paper he dropped before walking several blocks to catch a bus that would take him 35 minutes away, to the place he calls home for now.
    "I hope this weather lasts," he said. Minutes after Harris boarded the bus, thunder rolled and lightning broke the gray clouds open, turning the sidewalk into a riverbed. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)