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Hate's Quiet Triumph Is Westchester's Loss

May 11, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

This commentary is by staff writer Al Martinez, who writes regular columns for The Times' Westside and San Fernando Valley sections.

Hate won last weekend in Westchester.

Tori and Robson Dufau, their lives and their children threatened by a bigot, moved from their neat stucco home on West 79th Street.

There was no fuss and there was no fanfare.

They were driven out by a barrage of racist mail that climaxed in the shooting death of a pet rabbit in their backyard.

But the rabbit wasn't the real target. They were. The reason: Tori is black, her husband white.

"I wanted to stay," she told me a few days ago. "I wanted the bigots to know they couldn't get away with what they were doing.

"But it began affecting our whole family. There was no other choice. They did get away with it."

The Dufaus moved into the house last October. The hate mail began a month later.

The swastika-lined literature ranted against "niggers" and railed against race-mixing. "The zoo wants you," one letter said.

The harassment hurt and angered the young couple, but it didn't terrorize them. They vowed not to move from the house they had leased with option to buy.

There was more at stake here than their own welfare. There was a principle involved.

But then their car was pelted with eggs. Notes were dropped in a front door slot during brief absences from the house. The pet rabbit was in a backyard pen when it was shot to death.

The Dufaus began to suspect that their enemy was not a remote bigot, but a neighbor. They felt watched and in immediate danger. They bought a gun.

"Neither of us could sleep," Tori said. "We were getting paranoid about who might be doing all this. We were on edge."

They called the Los Angeles Police Department, which made a public relations appearance at a block meeting but otherwise did very little.

Both the FBI and the regional postal inspector refused to become involved. It wasn't their department. It wasn't in their jurisdiction.

Only the Westside Fair Housing Council seemed to care or want to help. A support group was organized. The hate mail continued.

"We lost complete confidence in the police," Tori said. "Three months ago, I gave them some literature that had been hand-delivered. It had a clearly visible fingerprint on it. They said they would check it but did nothing. They haven't even called us back."

Responding to the growing fear in different ways, Tori began to gain weight, Robson to lose it.

"I think on our own we would have continued to stick it out," Tori said. "But there was our son to consider. I couldn't subject him to any more."

They have two children, both boys. The eldest son, just 5, is the one they worried about most. The death of his pet rabbit did something to him.

"I took him to a dentist one day," Tori said. "The receptionist took me aside later and said he had asked her to be his mother."

When Tori questioned the boy about it, he replied that he wanted a white mommy so that the trouble would end.

"It's gotten him confused," Tori said. "He now feels it's not OK to be black."

The final letter came two weeks ago.

It said that the continued presence of Tori and Robson Dufau was angering a growing number of those who did not want them in Westchester. It added: "If you stay, you'll pay."

"I guess that really did it for us," Tori said. "I am angered and saddened we couldn't hang on, but the danger was too great. That was the end."

I talked with Blanche Rosloff, who is executive director of the Westside Fair Housing Council.

"This kind of thing is happening more and more," she said. "Everyone says, 'Blanche, this will go away,' but it won't. It's getting more personal and more threatening."

On any given day in the Westside, you could probably gather a thousand noisy marchers to parade against everything from apartheid in South Africa to hunger in Ethiopia.

But despite newspaper and television exposure of their plight, no one marched for Tori and Robson Dufau, no one yelled, no one picketed and damned few even seemed to really care.

And so it was at the end.

There were no trumpets sounded at any time by the brotherhood activists who willingly wage remote warfare against Pretoria but who wouldn't lift a picket sign to support a troubled family in Westchester.

Commitment, it seems, increases in direct proportion to the distance from a battlefield.

When the Dufaus moved, they moved without audience, though there was a form of spectral companionship in the ghost that shadowed their packing.

They gave occupancy of their old neighborhood over to an evil that lives beyond the light, that thrives in places where love dies and malice festers.

I drove by the home once occupied by the Dufaus. Shades are drawn over the windows. An air of despair and abandonment shrouds the emptiness.

There is, indeed, a haunting of hatred going on here.

Racism won when a young family was driven from a neighborhood in Westchester. But, by the tone of that victory, it was not only the Dufaus who suffered defeat.

We all lost.

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