Originally created 07/25/02

Findings divided city, panel says



A special grand jury presentment condemning the city's fire department under former Fire Chief Ronnie Few has widened the divide in a community already troubled by racial strife, the Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission said Wednesday in a written statement.

The Human Relations Commission is an appointed board of the Augusta Commission whose mission is to ease racial tensions in the community and educate the public about issues of diversity.

"This body recognizes that the tone set by the presentment using name-calling and innuendoes and opinions not backed by fact should be frowned upon by the entire community," the statement said.

Although there have been complaints that the special grand jury's latest presentment was racially biased, the panel said it has found no evidence to either support or deny those claims.

"The commission is asking that all media, government entities, other persons or groups refrain from making inflammatory statements or taking regrettable action regarding this presentment until the entire presentment has been issued and/or evidence is provided to support the claims," the panel said. "These types of statements only serve to divide our community."

The Human Relations Commission, which called a special meeting Tuesday night to draft the statement, still is in the process of reviewing the presentment, Chairman Kent Spruill said.

"The main reason we are looking at it is because of the allegations that it is racially provoked, or that they went after one department because it was headed by a black," Mr. Spruill said. "Those are the types of inflammatory statements that people are making but not providing any evidence, so we're asking the community to refrain from doing that or to provide evidence that it is race-based, and let's pursue it in that manner."

"This body recognizes that the tone set by the presentment using name-calling and innuendoes and opinions not backed by fact should be frowned upon by the entire community."

- from an Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission statement

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.