One Glendale police officer tells the story this way: Several years ago a black man was stopped by police for speeding on a city street. The police officer walked over to the man's car and asked, "What are you doing in Glendale?"
The implication in the question, the officer telling the story said, was that a black man had no business being in Glendale. The black man, enraged by the question, asked for a Glendale Municipal Court hearing. There he supposedly told the judge that he would gladly pay the fine for speeding but that he wanted to protest the officer's implication that he, as a black person, should not even be in Glendale.
"Let me assure you, sir," the judge is said to have replied, "that you are indeed welcome in Glendale and can come back whenever you wish."
Although no one confirms that the incident actually happened, the anecdote is often told when people talk about race relations in Glendale. The image of the city as a place where blacks and other minorities are not welcome is exacerbated by the fact that the city was the West Coast headquarters for the American Nazi Party until 1965.
Struggling With Image
Today, when less than 1% of the city's 150,000 residents are black and about 18% are Latino, according to the 1980 census, Glendale is still struggling to overcome an image as a city that would like to keep its door closed to minorities, some city officials say.
To that end, amid recent charges of racism within the Police Department and in the vandalism of a deli owned by a black woman, the Glendale Human Relations Council has been reborn.
The organization started in 1963 at a time of national racial unrest and quietly went out of existence in 1980 as the nationwide civil rights movement ebbed.
The organization's goals, members say, is to mediate racial disputes and to counsel and help those who feel that they have been discriminated against or racially harassed. The group also plans to hold a series of town hall meetings in which speakers will address racially related topics. The first such meeting was held last week; the next is scheduled for Dec. 11.
Rebirth of Council
The council's new chairwoman, Geri Brown, said: "There's always been a subtle hint here that, if you're not white, you're not welcome. I'm convinced that this bad rap is felt outside of Glendale and that people are afraid to come here and shop or go to a movie. I want to change that."
Brown, 43, has been a Glendale resident for six years and owns WWB Bowling Supply in Glendale. She said she started pressing for the rebirth of the council about three months ago after reading reports of vandalism and racial slurs against the black owner of the Glendale deli.
Laurette Yates, owner of the Glen-Deli, told police and the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission that derogatory graffiti had been scrawled on the doors of her Brand Boulevard delicatessen and that racial insults had been directed against her and her 17-year-old daughter.
Brown said she was so stunned by the incidents that she called the mayor, the police chief and other city officials. She said she felt brushed aside when officials assured her that the Yates' experience was isolated and that such racially motivated attacks rarely occur in Glendale.
"I think the mayor's position and the City Hall position is to look for good publicity and to deny that any of this exists so as to build up Glendale's image," Brown said.
Suit Against Police Department
Members of the new human relations council say they were also spurred into action by last month's trial in a discrimination suit brought against the Police Department by a Latino officer.
The officer charged that he was denied a promotion to sergeant because of his race. A federal judge ruled that the city did discriminate against the officer and ordered that he be promoted to sergeant. The city is appealing the decision.
During the trial, three black officers testified that they had been the brunt of racial harassment, including a 1980 incident in which one of the officers went to a party at a fellow officer's house and found that his colleagues, purportedly as a joke, welcomed him with a cross burning in the front yard.
The trial also brought to light racially derogatory cartoons and flyers, some of which a white Glendale police officer admitted producing, that were circulated in the department by that officer and at least two others.
Investigation Under Way
At the request of the judge, city officials are investigating the origins of those materials.
In a recent interview, Mayor Larry Zarian said there may be "some sick minds" in Glendale, but that he believes that discrimination and racial harassment are largely things of the past. He pointed out that a number of people and government officials contacted Yates offering support. A city worker also was assigned to paint out the graffiti on Yates' store. Zarian said those actions are proof that the city does not tolerate racism.