Nine black members of a Christian youth organization on an outing to Six Flags Magic Mountain were singled out by guards from a predominantly white crowd of teen-agers and searched for weapons and drugs before being admitted to the amusement park.
Dan Monteverde, director of the San Diego chapter of Youth for Christ, a nationwide Christian group, said Thursday that eight black teen-age boys and a black counselor were subjected to "humiliating acts of blatant racial discrimination" by two guards last Saturday at the popular Valencia amusement park.
A Magic Mountain spokeswoman denied Thursday that the search was racially motivated. The youths and counselor searched were wearing "known gang identifiers," said Courtney Brown.
Jose DeSosa, state president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, decried the incident as "deplorable," and said the NAACP will take immediate action, including filing a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations.
DeSosa said the organization "will not stand for any more of this conduct," alluding to a January case in which Magic Mountain officials agreed to pay a $35,000 settlement to a black family that sued the park after an employee shouted profane racial insults at them.
Brown refused to say what articles of clothing suggested gang affiliation because, she said, it would "compromise the effectiveness" of security. She said Magic Mountain security officials work with Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to identify the types of gang insignia to look for and routinely search people whose clothes indicate gang membership.
Met 'Certain Criteria'
Monteverde said he, four staff members and 16 teens, had disembarked from a parking-lot tram and were headed toward the ticket booth when they were stopped by uniformed security guards and told that they must be searched if they wanted to enter the park.
Monteverde said he asked the guards why they were selected and was told only that the youths met "certain criteria." Group members said they reluctantly agreed to the search because they had traveled 3 1/2 hours from San Diego and did not want to turn back.
During this time, hundreds of other youths, most of them white, where being allowed into the park without questioning, Monteverde and other group members said Thursday. Eleven members of the church group were black, seven were white, two were Latino, one was Asian.
"I believe we were chosen solely because we were the only blacks around at the time," said James Patton, 29, a Christian counselor who was one of those searched. "We got off with a whole tram of white people, and they only selected every black male in the group." The two black females in the group were not searched.
One of the youths said the search made him feel like he had "just been arrested for bank robbery."
"They made us feel like hoodlums or something," said Mickey Reed, 15. "They had me spread my legs and they were patting me down everywhere. It was very embarrassing."
Patton said his pockets were searched but he was not frisked. He and the youths said their arms were restrained behind their backs while one guard reached into their pants to search their groin area.
"All this was going on in front of their girlfriends," Patton said. "It was humiliating and degrading. I was hurting for them."
Brown said that, in requesting to search the youths, the guards acted in accordance with strict park security regulations intended to protect all guests from gang violence and from people who attempt to enter with weapons, drugs and alcohol. She said the use of restraining holds is standard search procedure.
The tight measures, which can include questioning and searches, were enacted in 1985 after a gang fight in the parking lot led to the stabbing of six people and assaulting of two guards.
"The screening is voluntary. They were not forced, they had a choice" between being searched or being denied admittance to the park, Brown said. "It is unfortunate that a few innocent people also have to go through screening in order to find those who pose a threat to other park guests."
The teen-agers and counselor were not carrying weapons or drugs and were permitted to enter the park, Brown said. The search took place in a semi-private area near the entrance.
Like 'Bill Cosby Would Wear'
The youths and their Christian counselors were at a loss to explain what type of "gang identifiers" they could have been wearing.
Patton said he was dressed in blue, cotton-blend slacks, a button-down shirt and a gray jacket with "Nissan" embroidered on it--a jacket he wore when he was a car salesman. Carl Johnson, 16, said he was wearing plain white tennis shoes, jeans and a green sweater his grandmother gave him for Christmas. "You know, the type of sweater Bill Cosby would wear," Johnson said.
The kids were wearing all colors--red, green and blue--"just like every kid at the park was wearing colors," Monteverde said. "I know what kinds of clothes gang members wear. My kids weren't wearing any of it."
Monteverde said he is familiar with gang-type clothing because he counsels gang members as part of his job.
Parents of several of the youths said they were shocked to hear of the search, especially because they were traveling with a Christian organization.
"Put yourself in my place and you'll know how bad I feel," said Daisy Callahan, 51, whose son, LeRoy, was searched. "I'm a mother who is trying to protect her son and teach him respect and a good, Christian way of life.
"This has put fear into my child, fear because he's black. LeRoy is only 15, and kids aren't that strong at 15."