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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jack Coleman has filed a complaint with the state Antidiscrimination and Labor Division against Friendship Manor for housing discrimination. Here he talks with the Tribune from his attorney's offices in Salt Lake City, Thursday, August 21, 2014.
Black tenant alleges racism at Utah apartment building
Discrimination? » Investigation focuses on hate-filled notes.
First Published Aug 23 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Aug 24 2014 08:27 pm

A 66-year-old black man has filed a housing-discrimination complaint against the management of a Salt Lake City apartment building for the elderly and disabled.

In the complaint, filed Aug. 15 with the Antidiscrimination Division of the Utah Labor Commission, Jack Coleman asserts that he was the victim of repeated racial and religious discrimination at Friendship Manor, a federally subsidized apartment building at 1320 E. 500 South.

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Coleman’s complaint further alleges that the management of Friendship Manor broke the law by failing to put an end to the harassment that began when Coleman arrived in April. Coleman finally fled Friendship Manor on Aug. 7 and has been staying at a hotel ever since.

"The federal government is well aware of what is happening at Friendship Manor, and we’re looking into the situation," said Charlene Guzman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The state Antidiscrimination Division is trying to mediate before initiating a full-blown investigation.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City police have launched a criminal probe into a series of threatening, racist notes that were left on Coleman’s door for three consecutive days in early August.

The first note appeared Aug. 6 on Coleman’s door. "WE Don’t Want BLack People Here Get Out," it said.

A new note appeared each day for the next two days. One was cobbled from letters and words cut from a magazine as if it were a ransom note. Along with a misspelled racial slur, it carried a threat: "get out or eLse."

The final note, which arrived after Coleman had moved out, said simply: "You are not welcome at this building.out of here black bastard."

A police officer was at Friendship Manor on Wednesday interviewing tenants.

"It is classified as a hate crime," said police spokesman Detective Cody Lougy, "and we take those very seriously."

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Lester A. Perry, Friendship Manor’s attorney, said management is cooperating with the police investigation and has vowed to evict the offender, who is likely another tenant.

"If we could find out who the person was who posted those notes," Perry said, "that person would be gone as fast as I could get a court order to remove him."

But the notes left on Coleman’s door were only the latest in a string of abuses that Friendship Manor’s management knew about for months and, according to Coleman and other Friendship Manor tenants, failed to stop.

"Since the arrival of a new resident, who is Afro-American, it seems we as residents and staff have come face to face with our own prejudices and not-so-positive attitudes towards our fellow human beings," wrote an anonymous tenant in an open letter to Friendship Manor’s executive staff. "Unfortunately, there have been incidents of discrimination but no serious consequences applied."

Perry said Friendship Manor did everything it could to resolve the situation and tried to make Coleman, the only black person among 185 tenants, feel welcome.

"Aren’t you going to serve me?" » Coleman was born in 1947 in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. In 1965, the year Watts erupted in some of the country’s most violent race riots in history, Coleman joined the Army. He turned 19 in Vietnam.

Coleman moved to Salt Lake City last year to be baptized into the LDS Church. He had never been called a "n-----" by a white person until he moved to Utah.

Race-based housing discrimination has yet to be relegated to history’s ash bin. A HUD study last year found that "national fair-housing policies must continue to adapt to address the patterns of discrimination and disparity that persist today."

Coleman’s experience at Friendship Manor evokes images more akin to the Jim Crow South than present-day Salt Lake City.

He moved into his 13th-floor apartment April 24. That day, Coleman recalled, a man in the elevator called him a "n-----." The next day, in the dining room, a man hooked up to a breathing machine touched Coleman on the arm to get his attention.

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