Recent Hate Crimes Prompt Community Summit
Friday, October 2, 2009
Hate crimes are on the rise nationally and there are several hate groups are active in the East County, according to a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Last night, the second annual Hate Crimes Summit took place in El Cajon. It was convened by a coalition of faith and community leaders and prompted by a series of hate motivated incidents in east county. So, Miriam, first of all, help us out here. What is a hate crime? Just to sort of define it for us.
MIRIAM RAFTERY (Editor, East County Magazine): A hate crime is a criminal act that is motivated by bias against someone in a particular class. It could be their race, their religion, their ethnic background, their sexual orientation or their gender.
PENNER: Okay. So last night was this Hate Summit…
PENNER: That’s a big name, you know. Did something really grand happen at that summit meeting that might tell us that things are going to be different from this point on?
RAFTERY: Well, I think the positive, certainly, was that we had people from law enforcement, from the Sheriff, from the DA, who were willing to be there to dialogue with community members. They had a mother of a hate crime victim on the panel, they had people from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League was there.
PENNER: What is the Southern Poverty Law Center? I don’t think a lot of people know what that is.
RAFTERY: The SPLC is considered the national source that tracks hate crimes, number one, hate groups. Shockingly, they’re telling us that there are now over 900 hate groups in America. It’s gone up 50% in the last eight years and even more since the first African-American president was elected. Shockingly, Gloria, California has more of these groups than any state in the nation, 84 of them, and the majority of those are in Southern California. And, you know, in addition, according to an FBI report, hate crimes in San Diego, the city, are up 25%, 32% in the county, so we definitely have a problem here. Now the numbers are not enormous but as many of the victims there would tell you, one is too many.
PENNER: All right, one more question about the summit, was – what were you hoping to accomplish? What was the prime purpose of it?
RAFTERY: Umm-hmm. Well…
PENNER: By you, I mean, you know…
RAFTERY: The people that organized…
PENNER: …the people – yeah.
RAFTERY: Yeah, I was not an organizer…
RAFTERY: …or anything. The – They wanted to bring this out in the open and I think many of them feel that there’s a problem with hate crimes being under-reported or hate motivated incidents. There’s a lot of fear and a lot of intimidation, and I’ve spoken with many, many people in east county who say, you know, this happened to them or they were a witness to this, but they’re afraid to come forward. There are white supremacist gangs, for example, that have been known to threaten people. There’s also peer pressure. Sometimes kids, you know, they don’t want to rat out other kids, or the parents are afraid, and they’ll tell them to be quiet. Or a school official may be more concerned with trying to, you know, reform and get help for the people who perpetrate these and so sometimes things aren’t reported to law enforcement, and also sometimes law enforcement itself, they may report a crime as a gang related crime or something else if it’s, say, an African-American gang and a white gang or something like that or Hispanic gang, so if you don’t report them then the numbers, as bad as these appear, they may be – Many people feel that they’re actually even higher and so they want better reporting and they also want some steps done to try to teach tolerance and educate parents how to, you know, dissuade their children from engaging in this kind of behavior.
PENNER: And to our listeners, have you or anyone that you know experienced the kind of crime that Miriam Raftery is talking about? Or if not an actual crime, witnessed an incident that was motivated by hate of gender, race, ethnicity, age, that kind of thing? I would like to have you share that. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Kent, when there’s increased poverty, and I’m relating this to our first segment, and increased joblessness in any community or any nation, don’t we see that frustration is turned into hate, into a kind of a scapegoating and hate starts to be acted out in criminal ways?
KENT DAVY (Editor, North County Times): Oh, I think that’s probably common sense that tells you that you stress the system and stress the lowest, say, ranking or the lowest status pieces of the system particularly and it is going – the behavior that results is going to be aberrant and show up. One of the things that I would ask you to remember, though, is the awareness of the suffering caused by hate crimes has been – this has been a conversation point now that has been growing over the last, oh, certainly five or six years, I’d think it’s fair to say. As that awareness grows and more people are willing to report, the number of hate crimes goes up so there – that you do have to put that in the back of your mind that as people become more willing to say that there are bad things happening in my community, all of a sudden you’ve got more reports of bad things happening in my community.
PENNER: Let me offer an option to that. San Diego is becoming increasingly multi-cultural, multi-racial, many language (sic) spoken, many different customs followed here, wouldn’t that make it even more ripe for hate crimes based on race and ethnicity?
DAVY: Well, it – Perhaps, if there is a, you know, if, as I say, in this case of San Diego, if a segment of the white population is feeling particularly threatened by the rise of a minority, a Hispanic population, certainly. But also it’s the case that in the lists of incidents of hate crimes, many of them are sexual orientation, and that’s true. That is at least my – in talking to leaders of the gay and lesbian movements here, that’s always been the case here in San Diego…
PENNER: Our number is…
DAVY: …you know?
PENNER: ...1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. I’m going to go to your phone calls in just a moment but, Miriam, I think you’re disagreeing with Kent?
RAFTERY: Well, actually there was a representative from the District Attorney there last night and he said that in San Diego, the majority of the cases of hate crimes are actually against African-Americans. It is true, there are some against gay and lesbians but the majority of these actually are flat out racially motivated.
DAVY: In the city or the county or both? Or do you know what he was…?
RAFTERY: I believe he was talking about the county.
PENNER: Yeah, DA, county, I would guess. All right, let’s hear from Rebecca in La Mesa. Rebecca, thank you for calling in. You’re on with the editors.
REBECCA (Caller, La Mesa): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.
PENNER: Yes, go ahead, please.
REBECCA: Yeah, about a year ago in El Cajon one of my friends had a comment made to them by a person in our neighborhood and he was a different ethnic minority and later on he came to find his car window busted out so that was really unfortunate.
PENNER: Okay. So that’s one incident that we’re talking about. Miriam, do you have a sense that officials, whether they be city officials, county officials, or school officials, are responsive to what’s going on? And how involved are they in prevention and in educating kids, for example?
RAFTERY: Well, certainly, I think it varies from agency to agency and from school to school. And there are some that are doing a wonderful job of trying very hard to address these problems. There have been some tolerance programs put into some of the schools but that said, I don’t see that it’s enough in some areas. We certainly have some schools where we’ve had problem after problem at the same school and there seems to be an embarrassment among some officials to talk about it. You know, I know we had one mayor out there that was worried about it, you know, hurting tourism if we talk about hate crimes in his city, and yet they have the highest rate of these of any city other than San Diego or Oceanside. So I think sweeping it under the rug is not the answer. It’s far better to address that there is a problem and…
PENNER: As un…
RAFTERY: …be proactive in…
PENNER: As uncomfortable as it may be.
PENNER: We’re going to take a break now and we’re going to come back, we’re going to take your calls and I also want to hear from Alisa Joyce Barba. She’s been wanting to get in on the conversation, and so you’re next, Alisa, right after the break. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.
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PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. And I’m at the roundtable with Kent Davy of North County Times, and Miriam Raftery of East County magazine, and, oh, we’re really represented all over the county. And from NPR, we have Alisa Joyce Barba. We have lots of calls. We’re going to try to get to as many as possible but, Alisa, I did promise you could say something about hate crimes before we start.
ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): I just wanted to mention about ten years ago I was involved in the production of the documentary that aired here at KPBS and it was called “Culture of Hate: Who Are We?” Lee Harvey was the producer and it was an award winning documentary because it went into the community of Lakeside and it looked at kids who were involved in white supremacist groups and at – who were involved in some hate crimes. And it kind of – it was just very interesting because it really peeled back some of the reasons why people get involved in this kind of stuff, why hate becomes rampant and why it begins to, you know, kind of take over a culture. In the case of our story, it was really – it was poverty, it was unemployment, and a sense of racial entitlement that was being usurped by other people coming in. And I think, you know, it’s easy to really demonize the people who are involved in this but at the same time, I think you have to understand, as we were saying, the roots in poverty and hopelessness.
PENNER: Okay, well, thank you very much. And now let’s hear from Jethro in Poway. Jethro, you’re on with the editors.
JETHRO (Caller, Poway): Hello. Thanks for having me.
PENNER: Certainly. Please go ahead.
JETHRO: Well, I, when I was in high school was part of a few white supremacist groups up in Washington state. And I just wanted to let you know that the reason why you don’t see as many hate crimes being reported as hate crimes is because, really, the youth violence is gang violence and that’s why youths join these white supremacist gangs. The actual hate crimes being perpetrated by the established hate groups are being done on an administrational level in cities and state governments and at the heads of businesses and police departments. And that kind of thing goes undetected for a very long time.
PENNER: Okay, well, thank you, Jethro, for that. And, yes, it’s true that the stats I’ve been reading very often call hate crimes gang-related crimes and don’t use the word hate so they aren’t listed under hate crimes. Let’s hear now from Ed in La Jolla. And thanks again, Jethro. Ed, you’re on with the editors.
ED (Caller, La Jolla): Hey, I guess my basic question is what exactly – when I drive through City Heights, I have to admit I am discomforted when I see a lot of Wahabist preachers and, you know, they dress traditional garment from Afghanistan and from what I’ve been told, they’re preaching the same branch of Islam that Osama bin Laden preaches. And I feel very discomforted (sic) and I guess what I’m wondering is does that make me a hate monger? Does that make them a hate monger?
PENNER: Okay, I...
ED: What defines this stuff?
ED: And what is the criterion? And is there an explicit question of it’s a hate crime based on who feels antagonistic or…? I don’t know. I mean, I’m…
PENNER: Those are good questions and – and, Kent, since you’re our great thinker, generally, truly, I mean, he’s – I think that Ed is really talking about discomfited is the word he used, it’s also a certain fear.
PENNER: And isn’t there a fear element in hate crimes?
DAVY: Well, there is – most definitions of criminal law of hate crimes include a mens rea or state of mind as part of the crime that involves a discriminatory motivation against the victim, that is perpetration of an assault, which isn’t a crime but it is an assault because the victim was black and I’m white or whatever, you know…
PENNER: Or dresses differently?
DAVY: Yeah, those things. So there is that element, is the additional element inside the most hate crime legislation and hate crime law. That’s a different matter altogether than being – having bias or having a sense of wanting to discriminate against somebody. Discrimination per se or having feelings of that is not a hate crime. I mean, I could not like a group of people and that doesn’t mean that I’m guilty of any crime.
PENNER: Right, and especially in our war torn world, you can see where you might not like somebody who was identified with a country that we might be at war with but that’s not a crime. Okay, well, with that we are going to have to wrap up this segment because we have another segment to go. I would like to encourage our callers, and we have so many of them who are waiting to talk to us, please post your comments on our website. Our website is KPBS.org/EditorsRoundtable or very close to that. If you go to Editors Roundtable on the KPBS.org website, you’ll find us. Post a comment, please. We’d like to know what you have to say and thank you very much, those who were able to get through.