Victim of Georgia party threats: How do I explain racism to kids?

Couple gets prison for racial threats at party
Couple gets prison for racial threats at party

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Story highlights

  • Police chief defends investigation's integrity
  • "I'm not going around hating anyone," host Melissa Alford told HLN
  • A group of strangers made racist threats at her grandson's birthday party

(CNN)The caravan of racist thugs who terrorized a children's birthday party has long passed. But trying to explain racism to the traumatized children is a challenge Melissa Alford still grapples with.

"They're confused. They're trying to figure out ... what transpired," said Alford, who hosted the party in Douglas County, Georgia.
"One of my grandbabies (is) white. So how am I supposed to explain the difference between white and black when she don't see that?"
It's been two years since a parade of trucks carrying Confederate flags roared passed Alford's party, hurling insults at the black partygoers. The party celebrated the birthdays of Alford's adult son, her 6-year-old grandson and another 6-year-old child.
Kids enjoying a bouncy house and a snow cone machine were suddenly interrupted by members of the caravan threatening to kill the partygoers "while repeatedly using derogatory racial slurs against them," the Douglas County District Attorney's Office said.
An adult from the party called 911, saying a group of "white guys with rebel flags" was armed with knives, guns and tire irons. On Monday, two of those people were given steep sentences for their roles. Jose "Joe" Torres was sentenced to 13 years in prison and Kayla Norton received six.
Jose Torres and Kayla Norton await sentencing at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Defendants banished from Douglas County

There's a chance the children at Alford's party will never have to see Torres and Norton again. In addition to their prison sentences, both are forbidden to return to Douglas County, west of Atlanta, after they get out of prison.
Investigators looked through Torres' and Norton's Facebook accounts and found numerous posts and messages indicating members of the group were white supremacists who discussed "attending KKK rallies, joining Skinheads Nation, and making numerous derogatory remarks about African-Americans as a whole," the DA's statement said.
CNN has tried to reach the two defendants' lawyers for comment, but has not received a response.
Douglasville Police Chief Gary Sparks defended his department from questions about why it took three months to make arrests or why more people were not charged.
It was difficult to find witnesses or "neutral parties" to the event who happened to be driving by, he said.
When investigators didn't find a shotgun or other weapons at the scene, they "did the most prudent thing people want their law enforcement agency to do. There was no rush to judgment," he said.
"Sometimes, it's best you gather information and identify everybody. That's why we called [in] investigators," he said. "We wanted to get it right the first time."

A fair sentence?

Torres and Norton broke down in tears at their sentencing.
"I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him," Norton told the courtroom. "I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I'm so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry."
Hyesha Bryant, who was at the party, had her own words for Norton.
"What you said affected my life. It affected my children's lives," Bryant said.
Still, Bryant said, "I forgive you, I forgive all of you."
Alford said she also forgives Torres and Norton. But the sentences don't make the job of explaining racism to children any easier.
"How (are) the other kids supposed to explain white and black when there's white and black people at the party?" Alford said. "There's no color when you're at my house. So now we've got to explain to them what happened."
Given the long-term impact of the event, she believes the sentence was appropriate, regardless of what others may say.
"I don't think the sentence was harsh. What's harsh is I've got to live with fear in my home."