-Caveat Lector-   <A HREF="http://www.ctrl.org/">
</A> -Cui Bono?-

Peace at any cost is a prelude to war!

Ryan C. Comstock
March 1-7, 2000
Irish American Newspaper
By Jim Smith

BOSTON -- In a controversial measure designed to placate offended minority
residents, officials of the Boston Housing Authority are asking residents to
remove shamrock displays from doors and windows in housing developments
across the city, the Irish Echo has learned.

Confirming rumors that have been circulating around South Boston in recent
weeks, Lydia Agro, BHA's communications director, told the Echo that housing
managers are advising residents that shamrocks and other "bias indicators"
are offensive to some minority residents and should not be publicly

"There are a number of symbols that have been identified by some of our
residents as making them uncomfortable and unwelcome," Agro said. "In
response to those concerns, we're including shamrocks along with swastikas,
Confederate flags and other symbols which may give offense."

According to Agro, some tenants complained about shamrocks during recent
mediation training sessions offered to BHA employees and residents. The
training, geared toward addressing issues of bias and harassment, was
recently nominated for one of federal Department of Housing and Urban
Development's "Best Practices" awards.

"We're aware that symbols such as shamrocks can reflect racial and ethnic
pride," Agro said. "We respect that, but at the same time we want to promote
a sense of community here. There is no written policy. We're simply asking
our residents to avoid public displays of any bias indicators.

The policy is being greeted with outrage and incredulity by many residents
in the South Boston housing developments and by some city officials.
Jean McDonald, a leader of the residents task force in the Mary Ellen
McCormack Development, which was named decades ago for the mother of former
House Speaker John McCormack, said that elderly tenants are especially
anxious about the policy, which sends them the message, she said, that their
traditions are no longer acceptable.

"Some of the women here already feel like they're living in a prison
colony," she said. "Some of them have been here for more than 20 years.
You'd think they'd be entitled to some respect. Instead, they're actually
living in fear, not knowing what to expect next."

James Kelly, president of the Boston City Council, told the Echo that the
percentage of whites and Irish Americans in the city's public housing has
been dropping sharply in recent years. "There's only a small number of Irish
Americans left, mostly elderly on fixed income," he said. "Having them take
down their shamrocks is a hateful way of letting them know their time has
passed. Believe me, the 'no Irish need apply' mentality is very much alive
and well at the BHA."

According to Kelly, minority residents now constitute the majority of every
family development in the city, and the BHA is administered almost
exclusively by blacks and Hispanics.

An attempt at harmony

Although the anti-shamrock policy was purportedly designed to foster harmony
and camaraderie among a diverse population of residents, it is having the
opposite effect.

"You'll probably be seeing even more shamrocks around here now, and I hope
we don't have any violence over this," McDonald said, vowing to put a wooden
shamrock outside her dwelling in the coming days in defiance of the BHA.

Many residents are especially miffed that the BHA is putting shamrocks and
swastikas in the same category of offensive symbols. The shamrock, a
trifoliate plant said to have been picked by St. Patrick as a symbol to
illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity, is regarded as the national emblem
of Ireland, while the swastika is the anti-Semitic emblem of Nazi Germany.
Jeannie Flaherty of the McCormack development said that she'll be putting a
shamrock on her door any day now. "I'd like to see someone try to get me to
take it down," she said. "There's a Chinese man who lives across the hall
with some kind of Oriental sign on his door. Maybe they should check that
out when they come around to talk to me."

McDonald said that the policy is reminiscent of the forced busing
controversy that has plagued Boston since the mid-1970s. "They brought the
minorities into the schools here and told the people in Southie to send
their kids to school across the city," she said. "When the people rebelled,
the press jumped all over them and called them racists. Now we're supposed
to give up our symbols and traditions because somebody's offended. Give me a

Writing recently in the South Boston Tribune about the controversy, John
Ciccone, director of the South Boston Information Center, said: "If new
people move into a neighborhood, especially one as established and
close-knit as South Boston, it is they, the newcomers, who must adapt.
Long-time residents here will not change and give up their traditions such
as the shamrock and others because it might somehow make a new arrival
uncomfortable. And that's just the way it's going to be. Get used to it."

At the Old Colony development in South Boston, a former city youth worker
told the Echo that the BHA is concerned primarily with minority statistics
and less with the lives of the residents who live in the developments.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said that shamrocks, which still
adorn basketball courts and murals in the development, were symbols of pride
when he was growing up there. "Even the Italian kids wore shamrocks," he
said. "We had our differences, but we got along OK."

"Nowadays, the kids in here would rather shoot heroin than basketballs. This
place has been going downhill for years, and kids are literally dying from
drugs. It's supposed to be for low-income people, but they got drug dealers
from Roxbury driving fancy cars and living here. Nobody cares. It's a real
sad situation, and the BHA's talking about shamrocks?"

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