Boston neighbors get together to ease racial tensions

Just because a man's gone to jail, it doesn't mean that a racial problem has been healed, residents in one Boston neighborhood have decided.

That's why a group of them got together Sept. 12 for the first annual ''Get to Know Your Neighbor'' barbeque in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood. The outing, sponsored by three local commmunity groups, aimed to help people get to know each other better in order to reduce crime and promote racial harmony.

''It exceeded our expectations,'' says community organizer John Hawley. ''We expected maybe 10 to 15 families, and between 120 and 150 people showed up.'' The group was so encouraged, he says, that ''we are very confident we will be doing this next year,'' and possibly holding other neighborhood events.

The Ross Field section of Hyde Park has been the scene of continued harassment of black families who have moved to the area in recent years, say police officials. A white resident, teen-ager Michael J. Gaine, is currently spending 60 days in jail because he violated a pledge made in court not to harass the black families. A unique Massachusetts civil rights law permits judges to order persons to stay clear of certain areas or face jail terms.

The Hyde Park picnic is a positive note in a summer of disturbing racial incidents here, including:

* The forcing of three black families to move from an all-white block in another area of Boston.

* The appearance of Ku Klux Klan graffiti on lockers of black and Hispanic policemen in nearby Cambridge.

* The painting of KKK on a black church in suburban Malden, Mass.

* An attack by four white teen-agers on a black couple in downtown Boston.

White neighbors and friends have worked to help the two black families who have been protected by the court action - Mr. and Mrs. E. Charles Brooks and Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Johnson. Mrs. Brooks has called the harassment ''a terrible, terrible four-year nightmare.''

Superior Court Justice James P. Lynch Jr. sentenced Mr. Gaine to 60 days in jail Sept. 2 for violation of an Aug. 19 consent decree that restrained Mr. Gaine and six other young white men from heckling the black families. Gaine violated the order Aug. 22, three days after the judge told the defendants that ''anyone who violates this order will see the inside of jail.'' When he pronounced sentence, Judge Lynch declared, ''Word must be sent out that the civil rights law (the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act of 1980) has teeth.''

Gaine was among 10 white youths arrested in July for heckling and committing vandalism against black families in the neighborhood.

The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act of 1980 bars ''threats, intimidation, or coercion'' by any person (including law enforcement officers) against persons in exercise of their federal and state constitutional rights.

The law also authorizes the attorney general to file civil suits in behalf of citizens who report harassment, a power not authorized in most states. Since Gaine was jailed, the civil rights division of the state attorney general's office also has filed criminal charges against him.

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