Combating Hate In San Diego
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Aired 3/27/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Oscar Garcia, Deputy District Attorney, San Diego District Attorney's Hate Crimes Unit
Edgar Hopida, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonprofit grassroots civil rights and advocacy group.
El Cajon police and the FBI are still investigating whether the beating death of an Iraqi immigrant in her home last week was a hate crime.
Shaima Alawadi’s daughter said a note was found near the scene of the beating calling her mother a terrorist, but police said there is also evidence that suggests the violent act might not be a hate crime.
Edgar Hopida is spokesman for the local chapter of the nonprofit group Council on American Islamic Relations. He told KPBS Midday Edition that his group is waiting for a decision from police about whether the murder was a hate crime, but said if it was, it would rattle the large population of Iraqi refugees who live in El Cajon.
“That’s why we have been in such a shock, is because this hasn’t happened to our community in such a long time. This is actually the first major hate crime that we’ve had within the Muslim community.”
Federal law defines hate crimes as acts, usually violent, committed on the basis of a person's race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Hopida said if Alawadi’s murder was a hate crime, the local Iraqi community could feel under siege.
He said since 9/11, the community has experienced discrimination, but not violence.
“We haven’t really experienced as much in the county, thank God, as opposed to other areas of the United States,” he said.
Hopida said his wife was victim of an anit-Muslim incident at San Diego’s Horton Plaza Mall.
While Hopida’s wife is Filipino and is from Canada, a couple came up to her at the mall and said, “why don’t you go back to Iraq.”
“So that kind of baffled me because she looks so Asian, she doesn't look Arab at all,” Hopida said.
“It is very disturbing,” he added. “I was very upset after that, and actually got security to look for the people.”
Oscar Garcia, deputy district attorney for the San Diego District Attorney's Hate Crimes Unit, said since 2006, the county has seen a decrease in hate crimes. But, he said, that number spiked up by 30 percent in 2010.
He said San Diego has seen other hate crimes, including a 2006 attack on six people in Balboa Park after San Diego’s Gay Pride Festival and a grandmother, mother and child who were pelted with rocks while speaking Spanish at Chollas Lake.
Garcia said hate crimes must be prosecuted because of their far-reaching effects.
“There really is not just one victim,” he said. “It really does affect an entire community. Entire communities are being targeted by the perpetrators to cause fear and distrust among different races, and studies have shown that victims of hate crimes take more than twice as long to recover emotionally, psychologically, from the trauma.”
A funeral for Alawadi, a mother of five, was held Monday afternoon at the Islamic Center in Lakeside.
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