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Eight Whites Shot in Cleveland as Racial Tension Boils Over : Only Black Family in Neighborhood Was Harassed

From Times Wire Services

Mayor George Voinovich said today that he will ask the U.S. Justice Department to look into possible civil rights violations that culminated in the shootings of eight white men after three months of tension between whites and the only black family in a westside neighborhood.

Voinovich also said he will order an investigation into why police failed to respond to complaints by the black family that fireworks had been set off near their house before the shootings Tuesday night. He said police drove by once after an initial complaint but did not respond further between 10 p.m. and the shootings about one hour later.

“We cannot and will not put up with this type of racial harassment, nor will we allow people to take the law into their own hands,” Voinovich said.

Three Months of Tension

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Authorities said the family had been subjected to three months of harassment.

The injured men were taken to three hospitals Tuesday night after a man fired four blasts from a shotgun, police Lt. Robert L. Bolton said.

A 24-year-old black man, who was not identified, was held for questioning in the shootings, homicide Detective James Simone said.

The family, two adult women, a teen-age girl and a small child, were escorted by police out of the westside neighborhood, and Bolton said, “We’re trying to find them a safe place to stay.”

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The family had moved to the neighborhood about three months ago as part of a public housing program run by the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, which owns the house, officials said.

Family Wants Out

The family has asked to move out of the neighborhood, Cleveland Community Relations Director Earl Williams said.

“I was aware of a lot of tensions,” City Councilman Jay Westbrook said. “I had calls at my office from both the family and neighbors.”

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The family had complained of harassment, said Pat Purdy, a community relations officer in the mayor’s office. The side of their white, two-story frame house was spray-painted about six weeks ago with “KKK.”

Joe Byrnes, 26, a resident of the neighborhood, said Westbrook had told him the family was a “test family and were moved there to see if they could gel,” but Westbrook denied he had said that to any of the people in his ward.

“We’re not diplomats here,” Byrnes said. “I guess this is what it had to come to.”

Alan Morvin, 17, returned to the scene after he suffered a facial wound and was treated at a hospital. He said some neighbors were shooting off fireworks, some of which exploded close to the black family’s house, and that a man in that house came out, exchanged words with some people, and then fired the shotgun four times.

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Morvin, who lives next door to the black family, said he never got to know them and did not know their names. “They were just quiet most of the time.”


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