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Fair Housing Battles With 'Our Own Apartheid' : Interracial Couple Receives the Support of Westside Council

March 16, 1986|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Each night before retiring, Robson Dufau hangs his "alarm system"--three bottles looped together with string--above the front door of the house on a quiet residential street in Westchester. He has instructed his 5-year-old stepson to play only in the back yard. And Dufau's wife, Tori, looks under the hood of her car before turning the ignition key.

The Dufaus are under siege, an attack that began in October, shortly after they moved into the house on a lease with option to buy. The enemy has not identified himself but his motive is clear: Robson Dufau is white and his wife is black.

Stuffed in Mailbox

The harassment began Nov. 24 when Tori, a 26-year-old school nurse, found a piece of white supremacist literature stuffed in the mailbox. "At first," she said, "I thought it was a joke." Then she looked more closely at the paper, which bore a reproduction of a 1930s Nazi propaganda piece and the logo of White Americans Organized Against Blacks. "I don't understand German," she said, "but I saw Hitler down there and I started looking at it a little more seriously."

The Dufaus reported the incident to police, who took a report, and that was that, until Jan. 20 when Tori found a National Socialist White America Party newspaper on the doorstep, "folded and placed right so you'd step on it." It bore only a post office box number in Pacific Palisades--and a vicious diatribe against "race-mixing."

Ten days later, Tori recalled, "I came home from picking my son up at school two blocks away--I was gone for 20 minutes" and, when she drove up to her house, she spotted a sheet of yellow construction paper taped to the front door. The message, hand-lettered, was "The Zoo Wants You." At the bottom was written, "United Nigger Foundation."

Angry and Stunned

"I was so upset," she said, "I just left it on the door." She was angry, and she was stunned. It all seemed like a flashback, she thought, "to those (television) films about Martin Luther King" and the civil rights strife of 20 years ago.

"I've heard about this stuff," Robson said, "but this really blew my mind. "It got me real, real mad."

Then, all was quiet, until Feb. 19 when a big manila envelope arrived in the mail from White Americans Organized Against Blacks. It bore a post office box number in the Bronx, N.Y., and a Marina del Rey postmark and it was addressed to "Resident." Inside was a typed message: "The community you presently live in has contacted us and complained of the situation" and it asked, "Why live in a neighborhood where you're not wanted?" rather than "with your own kind."

There were pictures of a cross burning in Idaho, and of Adolph Hitler. "And you thought," it read, "the days of the KKK were over. . . . "

Robson has bought a gun, although he "never thought I'd have to live like that." And Tori is thinking about learning to shoot, even though firearms are something she is "adamant against."

As of now, the Dufaus have no intention of moving. He reasons, "There are (other) neighborhoods where we could live, but we want to live somewhere where we can come home and the stereo isn't taken."

The police, they say, have been "very supportive." And they have another major ally: the Westside Fair Housing Council, whose mission it is to see that all people, of whatever race or nationality, with or without children, are not denied the right to live in the housing of their choice on the basis of discrimination.

"We parade for the end of apartheid, which we should do," said Blanche Rosloff, the council's longtime executive director, "but we have our own kind of apartheid here." She was recalling one of the council's early cases, about 1968, when it intervened for the Lakers' Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), who had been refused an apartment.

"I got the testers (volunteers and staff who pose as house hunters) out," she said, "and within a week he had the apartment. It was our first conciliation." Today, she said, blacks have no problem being accepted in any L.A. neighborhood--if they're rich and famous.

The Westside council, one of four affiliated councils that make up the Los Angeles area of the Fair Housing Congress of Southern California, in December won an out-of-court settlement of $80,000, the largest ever to a local council, in a lawsuit charging that a black man had deliberately been denied access to a Westside apartment that had posted a "for rent" sign.

Rosloff started with the council as a volunteer soon after moving here with her husband in 1968. A burned-out one-time Headstart teacher, she had learned "what separate and unequal meant" in classrooms in a poor area of Manhattan and on the south sides of Phoenix and Kansas City, Mo. She recalled, "I saw places in Kansas City that I thought had to be another country" and taught children to whom Old McDonald's Farm "didn't mean a thing."

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