SAN DIMAS — The theft of a black man's car later found scrawled with racist graffiti in San Dimas is an isolated incident and a "new issue" for the city, according to authorities.
But a local clergyman, who is a neighbor of the victim, maintains the incident of theft and vandalism is the latest in a string of increasing racial harassment of blacks in the city.
The Rev. Johnny Ramsey, youth minister at Emmanuel Misionary Baptist Church in San Dimas, said hate flyers have been distributed in the city's black neighborhood as recently as six months ago, racist graffiti has been painted on cars and apartment walls, "skinheads" can be seen walking the city streets and African-American children are sometimes targets of name-calling at school.
"There is a problem in the city of San Dimas, there is," the minister said. "Anyone who says there's not is either blind, or Caucasian."
Blacks comprise about 4% of the San Gabriel Valley city's 35,000 residents, and many are concentrated in an area around Nubia Street.
Ramsey said he and others have left urban areas for the peace and slower pace of San Dimas, with its downtown buildings styled like an Old West movie lot and its peaceful streets lined with trees and green lawns.
San Dimas' remote location, tucked around the southern curve of the Foothill Freeway, makes it an out-of-the-way refuge.
K'Deron Sanders, 35, a former Rancho Cucamonga resident, said the city's apparent calm drew him and his two roommates to the large apartment complex in the 600 block of East Bonita Avenue, where Ramsey is also a tenant.
Sanders, an unemployed truck driver, said he had never felt racial hostility during his 1 1/2 years in the city. That was until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, when Sanders was awakened by a roommate who told him that his 1984 Toyota pickup truck was not in its parking space in the complex lot.
Minutes later, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies found the truck in the parking lot of a nearby convalescent home. The tires had been slashed, the windshield was smashed and the word "nigger" was scrawled on both sides. Damage was estimated at $800.
"I couldn't believe it," Sanders said of the crime. "Nothing was taken. I had an ashtray full of quarters and nickels, three cassettes, a flashlight. They didn't take anything. They just damaged it."
Sanders believes the vandal or vandals must frequent the apartment complex and know where he parks his truck among the numerous vehicles. He was singled out because he is black, Sanders said.
"They weren't trying to hide it," he said of his truck. "They wanted it to be found."
The vandalism troubles him, Sanders said, but he added that he considers it an isolated incident and harbors no ill feeling against the city.
Late Tuesday a businessman in town from Philadelphia reportedly donated $1,000 to Sanders after seeing a report of the crime on a television news report.
Ramsey said that city officials and deputies have ignored complaints of racist incidents in the past. During the riots in Los Angeles last year, Ramsey said the apartment complex and cars parked there were hit with racist graffiti. A swastika appeared last year on the complex walls with "We're back," written underneath, the clergyman said.
About six months ago, racist flyers were distributed to homes in the city's black neighborhood, Ramsey said. Bearing authorship by the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group, the flyers said, in part: "Thank you, gangbangers and drug dealers for killing each other. One less nigger we have to worry about. If you need guns, contact us."
Blacks were infuriated by the flyers, Ramsey said. But sheriff's investigators told him that no crime was committed and that authors of the flyers would be protected by the constitutional right of free speech.
Ramsey said he is concerned about the most recent incident because black teen-agers at his church report occasional name-calling at school. In addition, the minister said he often sees skinheads--a term usually associated with white supremacist youths--gathering at hamburger stands in the city.
"A lot of things go unreported," Ramsey said of alleged hate crimes. "Hopefully, they'll do something about this."
But city officials and sheriff's deputies, who provide police services under contract, could not recall past reports of hate crimes in San Dimas.
"This is a new issue for us," said City Manager Don Pruyn, who suggested the truck may have been vandalized to disguise a car theft or other crime.
Pruyn said the pamphlets were distributed throughout the city and, for that reason, he felt they were not directed toward blacks. Sheriff's deputies do not know who distributed the flyers, he added.
Pruyn said he was puzzled why Ramsey, who serves on the city's law enforcement committee, had not brought up the matters before.
Donna Jutzke, manager of the apartment complex for the past six years, said the building has been hit by graffiti in the past, but the lettering was small and not racial in nature.
"It's not true," Jutzke said of allegations of past racial graffiti on cars and walls at the complex. "This is a very quiet community."