Commission takes testimony on racism, prejudice

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A panel appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles to learn how racism and prejudice victimize Alaskans got a candid and sometimes graphic earful Wednesday evening.

The panel heard of homeless Alaska Natives beaten up on the streets, children with Native American blood called ''half-breeds'' and gay men labeled with ugly slurs by co-workers.

The 14-member Governor's Commission on Tolerance held the first in a statewide series of public hearings at the Mountain View Community Center. About 100 people attended and about one-fourth of them testified.

''Three days ago, a young (Native) man came in with cigar burns on his back,'' said Tom Blackbird, an outreach specialist for Homeward Bound, a program that serves the city's homeless. ''He had been held down by white youths.''

Dan Carter, a 53-year-old city worker, said someone at his office wrote a slur over a photograph of him with hair and beard colored green for St. Patrick's Day. Carter urged the commission to consider pushing for hate-crime laws that include sexual orientation as a protected category.

The panel came into being on May 1, about 10 weeks after Anchorage police released a videotape showing white youths targeting Alaska Natives in a drive-by paintball shooting in January.

The paintball attack triggered complaints across the state from Alaska Natives and others who said racist attitudes run deep in white Alaskans and their institutions.

The meeting Wednesday was the first of nine the commission will hold throughout the state. In the afternoon, the members heard from representatives of social and civil rights organizations who offered suggestions on how to deal with the problems of racism.

The evening session gave the commission its first detailed look at the ''pain and injustice'' that the commission's chair, the Rev. Chuck Eddy of Anchorage, predicted it would encounter.

People who spoke said intolerance permeates Alaska, its streets, businesses and government agencies. Even the governor's restaurant, Anchorage's Downtown Deli, did not escape mention.

''Us street people look like bums,'' Vyula M. Jacobs, a 52-year-old homeless Native, told the commission. ''If we want to use the bathroom, the Downtown Deli won't let us in.'' Jacobs, a frail woman from Hooper Bay, praised Homeward Bound for providing food, showers and a bed. ''We feel safe,'' she said.

Peter Boguilikuk, a slight man in a ball cap, walked up to the table holding his ribs. Boguilikuk, 42, originally from Dillingham, told of how he and two other men had been beaten in the Mountain View industrial area several weeks ago.

He was treated for multiple stab wounds, cuts and two black eyes, according to a police report.

''I had broken ribs and all. I'm still hurting,'' Boguilikuk said. ''I'm trying to stay out of trouble. I'm trying to get home.''

When the evening session broke up almost four hours after it started, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, an honorary 15th member of the commission, said the most useful suggestions she heard contained specifics: creation of a safe camp for homeless people in Anchorage and diversity training for managers and employees.

The commission should also look into how the Human Rights Commission and other agencies that deal with complaints of discrimination can be brought to full staff, she said.

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