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1999 NCC News Archives

National Coalition Launches Hate Crimes Awareness Initiative
Journey to Expose Illinois and Indiana Hate Groups
While Retracing Benjamin Smith's Campaign of Terror

July 21.1999, NEW YORK CITY -- Launching a comprehensive campaign to combat hate groups in America, a "Journey against Hate" will travel through Illinois and Indiana this weekend, July 22 – 24, to call attention to the growing presence of hate groups in the Midwest.

"The healing of this nation's racial divide rests within the collective power of our will," the Rev. Dr. Staccato Powell, Deputy Secretary for National Ministries of the National Council of Churches, one of the co-sponsors of the journey. "The mainline faith community cannot continue to be complicitous through the sin of silence."

The journey will begin in Evanston, home of Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University basketball coach, who was shot and killed by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith while Byrdsong was walking with his children over the recent Fourth of July weekend.

Members of the nationwide Hate Crimes Awareness Initiative will join victims' families and grassroots supporters along Smith's deadly path – presenting specific information about the presence of hate groups in neighboring communities at each stop -- and using rallies and prayer vigils to build opposition to the hate groups' divisive message.

Sadly, Smith is not alone in his hatred. According to the Oak Park-based Center for New Community, which monitors hate groups in the Midwest and is a cosponsor of the event, there are 51 hate groups operating in 35 communities in Illinois and 34 groups operating in 30 communities in Indiana. These include the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group of which Smith was a member.

"Smith is a logical outcome of the hatred espoused by the World Church of the Creator, and they have to take full responsibility for his actions," said Rev. David Ostendorf, director of the Center for New Community. "But on a broader scale, our center is tracking 272 hate groups in a nine state region in the Midwest. That reflects the breadth and depth of this problem."

Two people were killed and nine injured in Illinois and Indiana during Smith's Fourth of July weekend rampage, in which he targeted racial and religious minorities.

The victims include Byrdsong, an African American, and Korean graduate student, Won Joon Yoon of the University of Indiana, who both died from their injuries. In addition, several Orthodox Jews, Asians and African Americans were injured or shot at during the killing spree. Smith killed himself as he struggled with police.

Made up of a coalition of religious, civil rights and anti-discrimination groups, the Initiative intends to expose the breadth of a burgeoning racist and anti-Semitic movement across the country and its links to the continuing burning of churches and synagogues. The Initiative will also pressure the U.S. Justice Department to investigate groups like the World Church of the Creator, where Smith was a member, and will work for federal hate crimes legislation.

"The time has come to get down to the business of educating, agitating and organizing hate groups out of existence," said Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil rights group that is a co-sponsor of the journey. "We can no longer dismiss their activities as fringe and out of the mainstream. That does little for the victims of the violence their rhetoric inspires."

Other co-sponsors include the Illinois Conference of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal, the National Coalition for Burned Churches, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the National Board for Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church; and the National Black United Front.

The journey will make the following stops:
Thursday, July 22
Noon. Evanston: News conference at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 9428 N. Lawndale St.
5 p. m. East Peoria: Rally near the City Administration Building, followed by an event at the headquarters of the World                   Church of the Creator.
7 p. m. East Peoria: Prayer vigil at Eckwood Park of the Community Gateway Center. 

Friday, July 23
10 a.m. Springfield: News conference and speakers at the Union Baptist Church, 1405. E. Monroe St.
1 p.m. Decatur: Prayer vigil and news conference at the Greater Faith Temple Church of All People, 790 S. 17th Street.
4 p. m. Champaign: News conference and speakers at the Union YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street.

Saturday, July 24
Noon      Bloomington, Indiana: News conference and briefing on the extent of hate groups in the Midwest and across the                  nation and the relationship of hate groups to the burning and bombing of synagogues and black churches and                  mosques.




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