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A FAMILY'S BROKEN DREAM RACIAL ATTACKS KILL HOPE IN MEDINA HOME

Carlton Little earned his piece of the American Dream.

But it was shattered the afternoon of March 18, when somebody pumped at least 10 rounds from a .22 caliber weapon through his front window.

The bullets ripped the living room couch and tore through a wall, puncturing a pipe and sending water shooting into the room.

They also ended whatever hope Little and his family had of finding peace in the hills near Medina, a village in a farming community midway between Buffalo and Rochester.

Carlton Little has a nice house, good job, wonderful family. He's a deacon at Glad Tidings Baptist Church. His wife, Mamie, is a secretary for the Orleans County Probation Department. Their two daughters, 16 and 12, are model students and cheerleaders who sing in the church choir. The family is a modern version of Ozzie and Harriet, except for one thing: They are black.

And that is why, Little and others believe, somebody shot up his house in broad daylight.

They believe that not just because the Littles are one of the few black families in the area. They believe it because it's not the first time something like this has happened.

Just over a year ago, the outline of a casket was painted in the road outside Littles' house. The letters "KKK" were written inside the box. Tops of flowers were cut from Mamie Little's garden and strewn around the drawing to make it look "like a grave," Little said.

The Sheriff's Department questioned some suspects, but no arrests were made.

In the 15 years the family has lived in the neat house surrounded by farmland, there have been numerous smaller incidents. None was as frightening as the last one.

Little, 42, a night-shift worker at the General Motors plant in Lockport, was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom when he was awakened by popping noises.

"Then it sounded like something hit up against the house," he said. "I went downstairs, not knowing what was taking place. Water was gushing out of a pipe onto the floor. There were holes in the wall, and the window was cracked."

He saw what he thinks was a maroon Pontiac Trans-Am with a loud exhaust drive away.

Sheriff David Green said 10 shell casings were recovered. No arrests have been made, and Green said there are no solid leads. "Whether it's racially motivated or not, I really don't know," he said. "The previous incident definitely was."

"This is a good family, well-respected in the community," he added.

Little and others believe he was targeted because he is black, successful and isolated. He lives on a country road, with no houses within a hundred yards of his.

"I don't do drugs or drink," said Little. "I'm not going out with anybody's wife. I've never done anything but add to this community. Going by what I've experienced, if it's something other than race, it'd surprise me.

"I mean, we're way out in the country. White families around here aren't having any problems."

The Medina police chief, high school principal and a prominent minister speak highly of the family. Neighbors like them. Little takes kids to Darien Lake and baseball games. He helped to start a youth basketball league and set up dinners for migrant workers.

"I've never run across anybody with anything negative to say about him," said the Rev. Dan McDowell, president of the Medina Clergy Fellowship. "I can't imagine how this is anything but racial."

Although Little owns a few rental properties in town, he said he hasn't had any recent evictions or disputes with tenants.

Little, a machine operator at GM for 21 years, was born and raised in nearby Medina, a village of about 7,000. Framed pictures of his daughters in dance costumes hang on the living room wall. A leather-bound Bible sits on the coffee table.

The Littles are a testament to the rewards of hard work. They have put $30,000 into their house, including vinyl siding. They're one of the few families in these parts with a blacktop driveway. He drives a 1998 Ford F-150 XL pickup. There's a big-screen TV and wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room.

In fact, said Mr. McDowell, the Littles may be too successful for some people's liking. "If he was living in a shack out there, I don't think he'd be having these problems," he said. "The only house shot up was his. What else can you point to, other than race?"

"It's probably a racial thing," agreed Martin Marciniac, a neighbor. "Somebody's jealous, doesn't like to see somebody like him make something of themselves."

Paul Moskal of the Buffalo FBI office said there's a good chance the agency will get involved.

"Absolutely," said Moskal. "Just because there was no overtly racial sign left doesn't mean it won't fall under civil rights statutes. You look for a pattern of activities."

Since the shooting, Little changed his work hours to get home earlier in the evening. His wife and children stay elsewhere until he arrives. The two girls no longer ride the bus to school.

"We don't feel safe here now," said Mrs. Little. "This happened at 2 in the afternoon -- what could happen in the middle of the night? It's very frustrating there are no suspects."

The incident prompted outrage and sympathy from many in the community. The Littles have received more than 50 phone calls of support.

Yet it's obvious that some people in Orleans County, which is 91 percent white, don't feel kindly toward the family.

It started, said the couple, soon after they bought their house. One evening, it suddenly became bright outside. What they saw was straight out of Mississippi, circa 1965. About a dozen cars and pickups were lined a few hundred yards down the road, pointed toward the house. They snapped on their headlights at the same time. After a few minutes, one at a time, they peeled away.

"It was like they'd rehearsed it or something, like a ceremony," Little said.

In the years since then, the Littles said garbage and beer bottles have been strewn on their lawn. Dead animals have been left on the doorstep.

They didn't report many of the incidents because they didn't want to make a fuss or seem overly sensitive. They believed things would get better with time.

"Most people do things out of fear," said Little. "I thought once people saw we just wanted to live here, that we were no threat, they would leave us alone. That hasn't happened."

No one believes racism is rampant in the community. But the area hasn't been without racial controversy. There have been at least five recent federal court actions alleging widespread racial, ethnic or sexual discrimination in the Orleans County Sheriff's Department. A lieutenant was convicted last year of torturing a black prisoner in jail. A jury recently sided with a tavern owner in nearby Albion, who claimed her fire-damaged building was demolished almost immediately because she is black.

Mr. McDowell and other ministers hold monthly forums on race. The discussions were prompted by a minor incident early in the school year, when kids paired off by race after an interracial fight.

"This is a wonderful place to raise kids," said Mr. McDowell. "But the old-boy network is definitely part of small-town life."

"It's hard to believe this could happen to the Littles in broad daylight, in a community this small, and there are no leads," he added. "Either the sheriff isn't doing his job, or people aren't looking out for each other."

Fred Snyder, longtime principal at Medina High School, said he wasn't surprised by the shooting.

"I've seen swastikas and hate literature circulated around this community," he said, adding that swastika stickers have appeared on school windows in recent years.

Medina School Board member Aaron Newson believes he's the only black elected official in this county of 42,000 people. He said drunken callers to his home occasionally utter the words "nigger" or "coon" and hang up. But he doesn't feel racism is prevalent.

"It's no more or less here than anyplace else," he said. "You get a few sick people with hate in their heart. You've got a good share of good people and your nuts who'll do anything."

Medina Police Chief Jose Avila said he was called "wetback" and "spic" in his days on patrol in a nearby town. "But I haven't seen a lot of that here," he said. "There's always a few bigots. You just have to work a little harder to prove you can do the job."

Despite all of that, Little believes some people wouldn't be sad to see him go. "It's tricky, because there are so many good people, and we don't think that way about them," he said. "But there's no question there's a segment of the community that has this bitterness in them."

That bitterness, said Little, will drive his family away. The Littles are looking to sell their house. They're not sure if they'll stay in the area.

"It's time to get out," he said. "This was a lot different than someone throwing something in your yard. There's only so much you can take."

The bullets fired that afternoon shattered more than glass. They took with them a piece of the American Dream.

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