Monica von Dobeneck, Patriot-News (Harrisburg), July 13, 2010
Lemoyne hiked nonmember rates at the borough pool on Monday, citing overcrowding. The move came on the heels of a Borough Council meeting last week at which four residents complained about behavioral problems, particularly involving minorities.
Resident Sharon Hernley, speaking at the council meeting Thursday, said some of the lifeguards are afraid to discipline minorities for fear of what she termed “the race card.”
Hernley said the council should expect to get calls accusing her of being a racist, but she added: “I don’t care. Bring it on.”
Other complaints were about foul language, rough-housing and failing to listen to lifeguards.
On Thursday, resident Jay Stark told the Borough Council that there is an “attitude of aggression” and a “very unpleasant atmosphere” at the pool, which he attributed to people from outside the borough.
The committee also decided that the pool management should limit the pool capacity to 260, down from the 293 allowed now, and stop walk-ins after 230 patrons to leave room for members.
West Shore Regional Police officers have started more patrols through the pool area, and committee members told lifeguards who feel threatened by patrons to call police. Police said they have not been called to the pool often.
Residents at Monday’s meeting did not raise any race issues.
Committee and council member Dave Beasley said the borough should not be afraid of racial profiling accusations if incidents of bad behavior are well-documented.
Some African-American leaders in the Harrisburg area said Monday that they were appalled at the residents’ comments.
“This is ignorance, the kind of ignorance we have been fighting for years,” said Stanley Lawson, the president of the Greater Harrisburg Branch of the NAACP. “It’s not based on facts or reality. It’s very dangerous, and I reject it.”
Lawson, who was the Dauphin County Republican Party’s first black chairman and who has served as the president of the Susquehanna Twp. commissioners, said he expected better of the community.
“We have a great country with great people,” he said. “We have our boys in Afghanistan, black and white, side by side, dying for our country. Then we have people here perpetuating this attitude. That doesn’t speak for all America, just a few people who feel that way. When I think of our boys fighting together, we should stop the nonsense.”
Patricia Gadsden, the editor and founder of Women Connect magazine and a member of the Gandhi King Peace Coalition, called the comments “unfortunate.”
“We should have gotten past this. We keep continuing this sort of very separatist type of behavior and comments. People are in denial that there is prejudice and biases. Then everyone is affected. It’s very disheartening,” she said.
Gadsden also mentioned the “real divide” between the East Shore and the West Shore. “Some people are afraid to go across a bridge because of possible danger,” she said.
Calobe Jackson Jr., a Harrisburg historian and former Harrisburg School Board member, recommended that the lifeguards be given sensitivity training.
“I think that the lifeguards have to practice discipline on an equal basis and apply the rules evenly to everyone,” he said. “It looks like they already have problems. [Racial] problems with pools go way back.”
Armed security guards have been posted at public pools in Buffalo after a lifeguard was pulled into the water by rowdy teenagers and other unruly behavior prompted safety concerns for parks employees.
The city’s eight public outdoor pools were shut down last Thursday after fights broke out and a locker room was vandalized.
At one pool, a 16-year-old lifeguard says she was yanked by her ankles into the water when she tried to restore order. She says she struck her head on a drain and then was repeatedly dunked by several teenagers until another lifeguard rescued her.