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Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/american/montana/billings.001


Archive/File: orgs/american/montana billings.001
Last-Modified: 1994/06/21
Source: Jerusalem Post

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*****        *   FOREIGN NEWS & FEATURE SERVICE       
                 MAY 18, 1994
       
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------------------- WEDNESDAY FEATURES FILE/5 ----------- 

   TOWN WINS HONOR FOR FACING DOWN ANTISEMITES BY HILLEL KUTTLER (A
   Montana city stood together with its small Jewish community and
   crushed a campaign mounted by skinheads.)

   LAST winter, when skinheads threw cinderblocks through the window
   of a Jewish home displaying a hanukkia, the community of Billings,
   Montana, rallied.  

   The Billings Gazette published a full-page drawing of a hanukkia
   and townsfolk pasted them in their own windows.  

   Unable to distinguish the Jewish homes from those of non-Jews, the
   skinheads - who are aligned with such white supremacist groups as
   Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan - ceased further attacks.  

   No sooner had the hate campaign begun than it was crushed.  

   In recognition of the town's solidarity, the American Jewish
   Committee, at its annual dinner here last week, presented Billings
   Police Chief Wayne Inman with a special citation.  In making the
   award, organization director David Harris evoked the World War
   II-era Danes who helped smuggle 7,500 Jews to Sweden, and
   Bulgarians who refused to deliver Jews to the Nazis.  

   The incident became a model for a community overcoming its enemies.


   It also validated the recent urgings of Inman, 51, who had arrived
   in Billings just a year earlier after 28 years on the Portland,
   Oregon, police force.  The Montana native and Marine veteran
   retired from the Portland force, because he wanted to get away from
   the "big city."

   In 1992, Inman first saw racist fliers after being named top cop in
   the city of 81,000.  He "naively believed, though we had skinheads
   in the city, their influence wouldn't be critical."

   Even today, he estimates the skinheads in Billings number a
   half-dozen.  

   But when additional anti-Jewish, -black and -homosexual leaflets
   appeared six months later during a Martin Luther King Day march,
   Inman decided to take a stand.  

   Threats had been made against the tiny Jewish community of 240,
   including those in surrounding Billings County, for the previous
   few years.  

   First, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized during the High Holy Days
   in 1992.  Then came the Martin Luther King Day and Hanukka
   incidents last year.  

   "The next step was property destruction, assaults and death,"
   Inman said in an interview here.  "I wanted to intervene at the
   earliest possible stage.  I explained in the best way I could:
   'These folks represent a substantial threat to our community over
   time; let's face it now.' "

   The police chief's awareness of the danger facing minorities
   dated from the 1988 beating death of Ethiopian immigrant Mulegatis
   Serew by Portland skinheads.  

   After the leafleting incident, Inman brought his message to schools
   and churches.  He told people they didn't understand the problem if
   they really believed the solution was to not cast a spotlight on
   the hatemongers.  

   The turning point was a May 1993 rally for tolerance in which 600
   citizens turned up.

   "It said to me: we have a city that is aware and moved out of the
   classic denial they were in," Inman said.  "It's a story we want to
   tell - good triumphs over evil," he stated, adding that the town's
   response has resonated across the US, because "we're so hungry for
   good news in this country."

   The conductor of the city's symphony orchestra, Uri Barnea,
   believes that Billings responded the way it did because the victims
   were familiar faces.  

   "Racial bigotry against American Indians is commonplace," said the
   Israeli-bred Barnea, who has himself faced periodic threats by
   extremists during his 10 years in Billings.  "But when it happened
   all of a sudden to the middle class, the Jewish community, ...  it
   immediately touched the hearts and minds of people who know us
   personally.  

   "It could have been that complacency, as far as other minorities,
   was not the case [here]," added Barnea, emphasizing that this was
   just his hypothesis.  

   Gazette publisher Wayne Schile said: "Though I think this is a
   wholesome and well-meaning community, this was an opportunity to
   address something we have not been used to in this community,
   namely: hate crimes."

   Inman attributed the community's behavior to its Great Plains
   culture: "There has to be a common sense of justice and fair play,
   and Montana has that.  It comes from the frontier spirit where we
   take care of our neighbor.  In the same way cities rally when
   there's a flood, an earthquake, cities rally against hatred."

   Asked about Billings's response to the hate in its midst,
   Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman said, "It
   wasn't so much an act of courage in Billings as moral leadership."

   But he acknowledged it represented an exception to the norm.  

   "What we haven't been able to find so we can clone," Foxman said,
   "is what makes the people of Billings, Montana, stand up and say
   'No.'"

   Though Inman stood up to the Klan, he still exercises caution,
   because he has been threatened by the Klan.  He declines to give
   the first names or hometowns of his two grown children, who were
   influenced by his law enforcement career.  His son is a police
   officer in Oregon and his daughter is an investigator in
   California.  (c) JPFS 1994



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