(article: The Black Voice News)
(Date: Thursday, January 15 @ 21:57:07)
(by Mary Shelton)
Racial Slurs Driving Man out of Home/Business
Timothy Williams is the only African-American who owns and operates a business in his neighborhood in Woodcrest. He believed that he was achieving his part of the American dream to work hard and be successful and to provide employment opportunities to others.
Now his dream has become a nightmare, because his White neighbors have launched a campaign to run him out with the assistance of one of Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster's staff members and code enforcement, Williams alleges. Spray-painted racial slurs, death threats and even physical attacks against him have not weakened Williams' resolve but have taken their toll on him. Williams, who owns Secured Collateral Management, a car repossession business, said that his business has benefited the neighborhood's property values because he had invested over $100,000 into improving the property, including paving the driveway. Photographs which depict his neighborhood show numerous properties overrun by weeds and assorted debris. In contrast, his parcel is neatly kept, enclosed by a green fence. Walter Ellis, a former Riverside Police Department officer and a consultant with the company, stated in a letter that he almost did not invest in Williams' company because of the blighted condition of the property before its renovation. He stated that it was covered with abandoned vehicles, pipes and other assorted hazards, when it had been owned by a former county employee, but that neither the neighborhood nor the county had taken any action to deal with the blighted conditions for years, until Williams owned it. He stated that Williams provided necessary jobs for 35 employees, most of whom were Black or Hispanic and all of them worked very hard to make the business a success and he was proud of what had been accomplished. Williams said he had originally leased the property from a woman who had run a trucking business on the premises as it had been zoned for heavy commercial use. After he purchased it, county representatives including Buster's assistant Robert Calvia then tried to change the zoning classification to residential use only, and told Williams he did not have proper permits for his business. Although there were other businesses being run in the neighborhood including a nursery, Williams‚ was the only business targeted by the county, he said. And when he went to the planning division to apply for the permits they wanted, they denied his requests. Anomonyous phonecalls were made to the police claiming that some of the cars on his property had been stolen and officers from the Riverside County Sherif’s Department and Riverside Police Department came out to investigate but never found any stolen vehicles. Petitions were circulated in the neighborhood, he said, that were encouraged by at least one staff member from Buster's office. The campaign against Williams by his neighbors took a violent turn in a series of incidents which led Williams to file restraining orders against two of his neighbors.
Last May, Williams said, one of his female neighbors became upset with Williams after he was taking pictures of his property and others, as the county had recommended. According to Williams, the woman threatened him and said that he would not live to show his pictures to anyone. When the Riverside County Sheriff's Department was called, a deputy came out to take a report but refused to give Williams the report number. Williams said that this neighbor continued to harass him and his employees by calling them racial slurs and would repeatedly block the driveway of his business with her car. A male neighbor allegedly threatened Williams and when a sheriff deputy responded, the neighbor told the deputy that he was suffering from "flashes" and would not bother Williams again. However, he later attacked Williams on his property and when Williams tried to defend himself, he tried to stab Williams in the stomach with a knife. No criminal charges were filed in this case. Judge Charles D. Field, who heard both cases, sympathized with his neighbors, Williams said, and forced him to drop the restraining order. When Williams brought up his neighbors’ use of racial slurs and the physical assault, Field said that the neighbors weren’t being racist but were likely just upset that his business was noisy. Field, who has a reputation for pushing mediation in civil cases, kept asking Williams what was the issue. "This guy came onto the property and tried to stab me," Williams said, "What is there to mediate?" Ellis said in his statement that he had witnessed the deputy favoring the other side on at least one occasion when Williams had called for their assistance. When questions were asked to various county officials about the situation, they tossed the issue of Williams' and his company around like a hot potato. Calvia said that he worked as a legislative assistant for Buster and had little information on the situation. "I believe that there are some code enforcement issues with the property," he said, "I am not the right person to talk to about it." When asked if the racial attacks had any relationship with the problems with code enforcement, he repeated his statement that it was a code enforcement issue and he was not the right person to talk to. County Code Enforcement director Jim Miller said that the county handled many investigations and that it would take a while for his department to respond to inquiries about the Williams' property but he and the county's public relations officer, Ray Smith finally responded to questions. "We received a complaint. They're running a car repossession business on the property and they hadn't applied for the proper permit," Miller said. He denied that the county was trying to influence Williams' neighbors to complain against his business. "The county is not trying to get people to complain about the business. That's not accurate," Miller said, adding that code compliance’s purpose was to help business owners bring their property up to the proper code. He said that Williams had been denied a permit, but could not say why and that he was supposed to apply for a change of zoning but they had not heard back from him on it. When asked why the property's previous owner had been allowed to operate a trucking business, Miller said that the business may not have been operating legally. When asked why his neighbors were allowed to operate businesses including nurseries, Miller said that the zoning varies from parcel to parcel. "Any piece of property might have a different designation," he said, "You have to make sure that the use that you plan coincides with the zoning designation that exists on that property." When asked about concerns raised after Williams had experienced racist attacks from neighbors, Miller said that the county could not deal with that and said that the Riverside County Sheriff's Department should be notified. Ellis stated in a letter that what Williams‚ was experiencing was hardly unique and that other minority owned businesses have suffered discrimination in Riverside County. "The problems Mr. Williams is having as a minority business owner is magnified thousands of times in Riverside County alone. These problems which are simply due to the complexion of Mr. Williams' skin, have cost him mental and financial setbacks that are insurmountable," Ellis stated.
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