Residents who showed up Tuesday night to a Blue Springs Human Relations Commission meeting to discuss race relations in the city were angry.
Angry, they said, that the vandalism of a black-owned business in the city is not being investigated as a hate crime. Outraged to hear that Blue Springs school officials seem to have done little to protect students who have been the target of racially charged language, and disappointed that more of their fellow citizens had not come to the meeting to express their same concerns.
Commissioners put race relations on the agenda for Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled meeting after a Blue Springs barber found his shop windows stained with racial slurs. The same two words appeared on three separate windows in black paint: “Die (N-word).”
That same day last week, a Blue Springs South High School student found the N-word in all capital letters scrolled across the front of an assignment paper she had left in an unlocked draw of her physics classroom.
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“When I heard about this, I was outraged, and I’m still outraged,” said Antoine Jennings, a member of the commission. “For me to not to see the outrage among other Blue Springs citizens, well, I’m disgusted.”
Only about a dozen residents, not including the commissioners, attended the meeting. Those who were there said the meeting was not widely publicized. They accused city and school officials of trying to keep both incidents quiet, for fear the city might be labeled as racist.
“Blue Springs is a nice little town, and we try to keep things quiet,” said Brady Watson, who has lived in Blue Springs for many years and has children in the school system. “We are not sweeping this under the rug. We are not going to let this go on.”
The barber shop incident is being investigated as property damage.
“I’m offended that this is not being investigated as a hate crime,” Watson said.
Lt. John Kingsolver, a detective with the Blue Springs Police Department, was called to the meeting to answer resident’s questions about the barber shop vandalism. He said it would be up to the prosecutor’s office to determine whether the property damage rises to the level of a hate crime.
Blue Springs South school officials, none of whom attended the meeting, told The Star earlier that they were conducting an investigation to find the person who wrote on the student’s paper. The school principal has said that what happened to that student was an isolated incident.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, parents of students attending Blue Springs South talked about other racially charged incidents their children had experienced at the high school. Several residents said they recently learned that an area in the school where black students often gather to socialize is referred to by white students as “Africa.”
“If incidents like this are piling up, then there is a cultural problem in the school,” said resident J.J. Thompson.
“Somebody has to take a stand,” said James Singleton, the father of the girl who had the racial slur written on her paper. “We have to make the school aware that we are not going to tolerate racism in our schools.”
James Price, who owns the vandalized barber shop, said he was disappointed that in a week’s time, he has not heard any updates on the case from police .
“It got me to thinking that maybe they just don’t care,” Price said. But Kingsolver said police detectives are working the case but don’t have any suspects.
“I don’t like what happened to you any more than anybody in this room,” Kingsolver told Price. “It puts a black mark on our community. We are working your case, and I hope we can find out you did this. And I hope the pubic is mad enough about it that they will help us find out who has done it.”
Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross did not attend the meeting. But in a statement to The Star, Ross said, “Manifestation of racial hatred is a sickness and cowardly act. There’s someone out there that knows something and needs to say something.
“Although it has been rare in the 43 years my family has lived in Blue Springs, no community is exempt from ill-willed people doing unacceptable things. It is not welcome in Blue Springs, and we will meet it head-on.”
Kynette Campbell, who chairs the commission, said the seven-member commission plans to go to the school and to the Blue Springs school board about the reported racial problems at South.
Campbell said the commission was established in 2014, “so that if we had something like a Ferguson here we would already be in place.”
“Our purpose is to promote diversity in Blue Springs, to make sure every resident in Blue Springs has the same rights and they are not discriminated against, that they are treated fairly.”