There's talk at water coolers, churches, taverns, street corners, and homes. Conversations are strained, weighted with decades-old hurt, anger and frustration.

Some recall how mattresses stuffed against windows muffled the sound of gunfire during the 1969 race riots in York. They remember how walls vibrated and shelved knickknacks fell as armored trucks rumbled past.

The dark lyrics of those days were recorded in memory. Now they're being played again as a grand jury is expected to investigate two unsolved murders from that summer 31 years ago. And, some city residents say, the tune plays like a scratched record.

Still, many believe resolution is necessary for the city to get through its racist past -- and present. Today, both black and white city residents agree there are "problems."

How deep those problems run, what their solutions might be, depend on where residents stand, whether they've been body-slammed against a wall by an officer because they fit a description, or whether people pull pocketbooks closer to them when they walk by. Whether they're black or white.

Walter Hayes. "This whole thing stinks. It reopens all the hurt and anger. They're not aware what they're doing, what they're up against."

"It could start up another riot."


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The grand jury investigation into the homicides of Lillie Belle Allen, 27, of Aiken, S.C., and Henry C. Schaad, 22, of York, is a "pot of poison" better left unopened, Hayes says.

It's noon. Hayes sits in a chair on his front porch enjoying the remaining minutes of his lunch break. A breeze cools the air in front of his house on the 600 block of West Princess Street.

Some in this racially mixed working-class neighborhood in the southwest corner of York City own their homes; many rent. Drug dealers share the streets, selling drive-through style.

Other residents gather, like Hayes, on front porches and stoops watching cars speed past. Police sirens occasionally interrupt the bass thumping from a four-door Chevrolet parked on the street.

Hayes, a 51-year-old black man who works as a company foreman, watches the street scene with his wife Peggy. They moved to York 14 years ago from South Miami. They'd move out of York City if they could sell their house.

"There's too much hate in this city and now the younger people are going to feel all that hate and pain," says Hayes.

Peggy Hayes agrees and says city officials should fix today's problems instead of concentrating on 31-year-old murder cases.

"I grew up in a place where whites were on one side and blacks were on another. It's here too, it's just hidden," she says.

The only solution, say the couple who are active at Faith Community Church, is prayers for peace, forgiveness and understanding.

Down the block of row houses and around the corner from Gus's Place, Jake Taylor sits in a lawn chair on the sidewalk in front of a friend's apartment in the 100 block of South West Street. He left York in January and now works as a press operator in Cleveland. He's come back for a visit.

Taylor remembers the riots and how the National Guard's armored trucks sounded then to his 12-year-old ears as they rumbled through an alley behind his East Princess Street house.

"There was a lot of racist s--- going on. There were gangs, the Newberry Street Boys and the Young Panthers. We had a curfew, we couldn't go to certain parts of the city," he says.

The curfew and bans were lifted years ago, but the same rules apply today, Taylor says. That's why, as a black man, he left.

"You've got to watch your back all the time. You feel like you're being watched, and it doesn't matter that you're not doing anything wrong," he says. "(Police) think a black person is either drunk or selling drugs."

 

Whether on the street, or in a backyard, Taylor says the eyes of the law watch everything in this neighborhood.

"Any case that isn't solved they should re-open. (Police) always try to get all the drug dealers: f--- that, get all the murderers. Get your priorities straight," he says.

"Why bring something 30-years-old up? It just makes s--- worse," he says. "We'll have another riot."

Sharon Walker, a black woman, hurries past Taylor and his friends on her way home for lunch. The 31-year-old mother of two is an accountant for a city firm and rents an apartment on South West Street near Salem Avenue. A few weeks ago, she says, a constable kicked in her door. She hadn't paid some parking tickets.

"I'm writing a letter to the mayor about it," she says. "I don't think they would have kicked a door in if I lived in a different neighborhood."

Walker has only heard a few stories from her father who, as an ordinary citizen, went to other black neighborhoods to fight fires during the riots when others refused.

"He doesn't talk much about it, it's very painful for him," she says.

Now, it's Walker's turn to explain to her daughters what happened.

She tells them it was a different time, and things have changed. Mayor Charles Robertson may have been prejudiced, she says, but he probably keeps politics separate from personal feelings. - - - - - -

A few months ago Annie Clark began talking to her four children about racism. She had to explain others' ignorance, Clark says, when her children's sports teams competed in areas such as Spring Grove and Dallastown.

"My kids don't realize how volatile and different the opinions are in other areas. There are a lot of white kids that shouted across the field, 'They have a lot of spics on their team,'" says Clark, 33. "It's those kinds of comments that made the kids question things."

She is white, like most of her neighbors who live in the tree-shaded Avenues neighborhood west of Farquhar Park.

She says it's taken too long for the city to solve the murders, but it's important that they be solved. Still, she wishes there were fewer front-page news stories because the stories fuel frustration, suspicion and anger.

"The tension is not so much in our neighborhoods, or face to face. People seem to have general respect for each other. But people in general are angry about it," Clark says. "You have this huge wound that's been opened, and now people are reliving it.

"Maybe they committed one crime and then spent the rest of their lives changing. If they're caught now, it destroys the lives of their families and it creates even more tension," Clark says.

Others on the Avenues aren't so generous with their opinions. They say they haven't lived here long, or don't know what happened 30 years ago, or just don't want to talk about the riots.

In 1969, Mary Ann Klein lived in her house in the 500 block of Linden Avenue with her late husband and two of her three children. Her youngest, Jonathan, was 3 when he stood in the dark on the front porch listening to gunfire.

Klein pulled him inside, locked the doors and pulled the shades.

"It impeded everyone's lives," says Klein, who is white and active in many community organizations. "Now we have to find out what really happened to those people so we can heal."

When it was announced last month that there were new leads in the murder cases, Klein says she couldn't escape conversations. People said it was a witch hunt, a political game between Robertson and York County District Attorney Stan Rebert. They asked, "Why now?"

"Years ago we had a charette," she says, referring to the community improvement-planning forum held after the riots. "A lot of people aired their differences. Perhaps it's time to do that again." - - - - - -

The sun has barely begun to heat the city sidewalks in the neighborhoods around Penn Park, where one gentrified block backs up to one that's just so-so, where some corner stores sell the sodas the kids from William Penn Senior High like to drink, and others sell the 1-by-1-inch plastic bags favored by drug dealers.

Kevin Jones, 25, and Rashad Penn, 21, sit on a picnic bench amid foot-tall grass at the park, a few blocks southwest of Continental Square. Both work, but are off today.

They agree it's time the 1969 homicides are solved, and they're suspicious of the mayor's past racist views and his opposition to the current investigation.

"We don't need someone in office who isn't for every race," Penn says.

Tension in inner-city neighborhoods is fueled by territory, or lack of it, they say. There's no space, people are on top of one another.

"There have been three murders in the last couple weeks. You can't go to parties without people getting into a scuffle," says Penn, a construction worker.

He sees racism on all sides -- black, white, Latino, Asian.

"I can't walk into a store without a white person approaching me asking if they can help me. They don't ask anyone else. People hold onto their purses tighter, like I'm going to do something," he says.

On the south side of the park, across Lafayette Street, Charles Gambrill enjoys the still, cool morning from his front porch. He moved from Columbia to York about 40 years ago. The 66-year-old retired factory worker, who is white, doesn't get around much these days as he's linked to an oxygen machine.

"If Mayor Robertson did what he said, I don't see how he did anything wrong. If anything he helped by telling them to get down," Gambrill says of the night the mayor, then a city patrolman, was among the first officers on the scene of the Allen shooting.

"As far as being a racist, that doesn't surprise me. But he didn't deny it, he accepted responsibility and apologized." - - - - - -

Rosalyn Ransome was 10 during the 1969 riots. When the city burned, her father left their West Hope Avenue apartment to fight fires in areas trained firefighters were afraid to go.

"People say they remember, but they're hush-hush about it," Ransome says. "They've pushed it under the table long enough and it's time to bring it to light."

Ransome leaves her Priority Road house every day for a walk on wide, nearly vacant sidewalks. A brisk pace carries her along the Avenues, up a few hills and back home to the middle-class Fireside neighborhood just south of Route 30.

This morning the 41-year-old stops to talk. She says the case does need to be opened because the families need resolution.

For 13 years she's worked as a bindery operator at a local printing company. Ransome says she and five other black workers are lucky to have wedged their feet in the door, fortunate to earn decent wages.

But she looks around, she reads the paper. "I'm going to think a black man can't get a decent job, a black man goes to jail for three to five years when a white man gets probation for the same crime," Ransome says.

"I'm going to start thinking about all that hasn't changed in 30 years."

When she's frustrated, she prays. But she realizes everyone doesn't have her faith or discipline.

"There are people who are good, and there are people who are looking for any reason to explode," Ransome says. "This issue is enough to get the angry people to explode. This is the ammunition."

Others living in this neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses and manicured lawns are afraid to talk.

"Everybody is shut up now. They don't want to get involved," says Virginia Moore, 66, who is white. "They don't want to offend anyone."

Moore had just moved to North York from State College when the riots started. She stayed inside with curtains drawn and waited it out. She and her late husband wanted to leave, but his new job was here.

Now she lives on Carl Street near Priority Road. Today she's outside washing the windows of her Chevrolet truck.

The murder should have been investigated then, she says. Not now. It's been too long.

Karen and Blaine Cunningham, also white, and in their 50s, echo Moore's comments. They lived in York then and thought the events of 1969 were far in the past.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Karen Cunningham says. "I'm sure Schaad's family needs closure, but at what cost? If they don't solve the cases, it's just going to cost the taxpayers."

Her husband suspects a political grudge between Robertson and District Attorney Stan Rebert, who is convening the grand jury to hear testimony on the homicides. - - - - - -

Flags fly from the stately houses of Springdale on July 4, but few are at home this afternoon in the city's southernmost neighborhood.

Jimmy Spells, a youth counselor, sits in a cushioned lawn chair on the front porch of his Springdale Avenue house smoking a Winston. He is in the minority in this predominantly white neighborhood near York Hospital.

Police patrols are frequent, but generally, the teens who walk here at night aren't stopped, dropped and searched for drugs.

Spells favors the grand jury investigation.

"The truth does not create tension, cover-up creates tension," says the man whose parents' home was two blocks from where Lille Belle Allen was slain in 1969. "I only regret that they're unable to get the whole scum-filled mountain of dirt and solve the other murders."

And don't ignore the present, he says. "There are a lot of people who seem to think the status of black people has changed. They point to a handful of those who've made it, a handful who are doing all right," he says. "The majority hasn't made it."

Where is a police review board, he asks. Where are black district justices? Why are inner-city streets in disrepair while streets in his neighborhood are weed- and trash-free? Why are parks in predominantly white neighborhoods manicured when grass grows a foot high in some inner-city parks?

"In the last 30 years, the call for equal rights has been doing the reverse tango. Every time we take one step up, someone pushes us back two," he says.

Spells is quick to say he isn't the "voice of the black community," but a man who grew up in the city, loves all of its people and has nothing lose by talking.

Across South George Street at Springettsbury Avenue, the Rev. Dr. Aaron Willford Jr. relaxes with his wife, two daughters and friends on the front porch of their house.

As president of the city's Black Ministerial Association, Willford leads discussions among leaders of about 20 area churches.

"People are wondering if this should have come out now. It came out now because of new evidence, and it will bring closure to the families," Willford says. "Whether it affects racial tensions, I don't know."

What does raise the ire of some parishioners, Willford says, is "institutional racism" throughout the city and county. Youths graduate from high school, go to college and return to York only to be shut out of higher paying jobs.

"If a riot breaks out today, it's going to be a lot worse than 1969," he says. "People have guns, they don't care what color you are, they don't care who's shot or if they're shot."

Elsewhere in Springdale, many neighbors say they haven't really followed the story. Some have lived here only a few years.

Julie and Larry Violante, white professionals, are outside their Peyton Road home at twilight, talking with a neighbor gathering signatures for a petition to alter a York College housing development.

The Violantes have heard about the investigation and grand jury. They're not sure about Robertson, but say "everyone has skeletons in their closet."

Back then, the police had political ties, they suspect, and things were kept quiet. Race relations have improved, as far as they can tell. They don't sense tension, frustration.

Julie Violante says resolution of the homicides is important, but until people's minds open, there will be racism.

"Things are better, but a lot of people grow up in families where prejudice is taught. It's still ingrained," she says. - - - - - -

Three men stand talking on the steps outside the York City Health Annex at South Duke and East Princess streets.

It's 9 p.m. Wednesday. Diaper-clad toddlers wrestle from women's arms en route to steps above the narrow sidewalks. Rush hour is long past in this humble neighborhood where many of York City's Latino residents live side by side with blacks and whites.

Night hasn't blanketed the city yet and the mood here is light, even communal.

Marshall Leonard was born and raised in York. As a boy, he played on intramural sports teams, boxed, and saw movies in the city. City kids had those options then.

Now 41 and living near Cottage Place and South Queen Street, he is a residential case manager for a local nonprofit.

He remembers being frightened during the riots. "There are two lives out there in eternity. This should have been solved from the word go," Leonard says. "The only reason it wasn't solved then is because people didn't want to solve it. But if they didn't come forward then, why would they come forward now?"

Again, conversations drift from past misdeeds of a racist police force to present conditions that he believes leave inner-city youth bored, broke and desperate.

"Officers will stop in their cars, jack a young man against the wall in the name of 'You fit the description.' What ever happened to Officer Friendly?" Leonard asks.

"I meet so many youths whose problems started when their dads left. You go to prison, you get out, you do what you have to do to survive. If that means going out to hustle, they will. You can't take pride, be a man when you can't buy your baby a pair of Pampers."

"Something's got to give. If the city doesn't wake up to see the needs of the community, it will suffer as a result," Leonard says.

It's 4:30 p.m. Thursday when Carlton Trotman walks into the American Legion Post 794 on East Princess Street and greets a handful of patrons who sip Coors and Bud from cans at the bar.

Trotman lives in Philadelphia most of the time, but keeps an apartment in York.

Blatant discrimination has turned more subtle now, Trotman says. He pulls a Carlton 100 cigarette from its package, lights it and inhales. "It's institutional now."

Back then, minorities couldn't get blue-collar jobs. Today, they can't get white-collar, professional jobs.

Trotman, who is 67 years old and black, has three academic degrees and 30 years of experience. But he hasn't found a "position" in York. So he works as a lead counselor at a correctional facility for juveniles in New Jersey.

As for the murders, he says it's about time.

"The questions are still relevant," Trotman says, "and every single person who was directly or indirectly involved in those murders needs to step up to the plate now."