Racism in Cambridge Discussed at Hearing

Victor A. Bolden, a second-year Harvard law student, was looking for an ice cream shop on Mass. Ave. with another Black student in November 1986, when four Cambridge policemen jumped out of their cars and demanded to see identification. They would not release Bolden or his companion until he had proven he was a law student.

The police claimed the students fit the descriptions of two Black men wanted for robberies in the area. The robberies, however, had occurred that spring, and the robbers were identified only as Black men between 5' 3" and 6' 3".

Bolden was among several Cambridge citizens who testified about local racism on Saturday at a public hearing sponsored by the Cambridge Human Rights Commission.

Demita Frazier, executive director of the commission, said the event provided a forum for public discussion and publicized the existence of the Human Rights Commission, which deals with complaints about racism.

"Many people said [during the hearing] that racism is alive and well in Cambridge," said Betsy Youngholm, vice chairman of the commission.

Steve F. Meacham, an employee at the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, said during the hearing that many immigrants and illegal aliens are taken advantage of by their landlords because they either do not know their rights or are afraid to assert them.

And Vice Mayor Alice K. Wolf said the fact that 80 percent of the people on the waiting list for public housing are minorities probably attests to the presence of discrimination in the private housing market.

Youngholm said she believes racism has been exacerbated by the recent housing and job crunch. "One of the things that makes racism more noticeable... is when you have people competing for scarce resources," she said.

Frazier said it was important to "alert the community to the fact that not only is racism still a problem, but racial violence often follows on the heels of racial attitudes."

The commission also plans to hold a series of workshops on other types of discrimination, such as prejudice over marital status, sexual orientation or source of income. Landlords are often reluctant to rent to welfare recipients, added Jonathan L. Handel '82, former chairman of the Human Rights Commission.

Most of the 100 people who attended the hearing were members of community organizations.

The commission plans to issue a report on the hearing in June.