County supervisors continue conversations on hate crimes

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With attacks on Asian Americans top of mind of late, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors received a presentation on hate crimes and hate incidents on Tuesday, March 23. The presentation was requested by the board when it passed a resolution several weeks ago condemning and promising to combat hate incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Mariko Yamada, a former county supervisor and state lawmaker, told the board on Tuesday that the resolution was important because it “set a standard that’s public and clear.” However, “we all know we have to do more. We have to do more because the incidents haven’t subsided,” said Yamada, citing the recent mass shooting in Atlanta as well as other recent incidents. “What we have to do is ensure that all governing bodies and our everyday citizens are equipped with the tools and the resources that are needed to report and to ensure that hate crimes and hate incidents are addressed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” she said. To that end, District Attorney Jeff Reisig brought in experts on hate crimes and hate incidents to educate the board and the public. As currently written, state law defines a hate crime as a criminal act committed in whole or in part because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: disability; gender; nationality; race or ethnicity; religion; sexual orientation; or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. “You have to have an underlying crime or there’s no hate crime. It’s a crime, plus you have to prove a bias motivation beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Nancy Appel of the Anti-Defamation League. “But we also talk about hate crimes as message crimes,” she said, in that “it is a message of hate and terror not only to the individual who has been targeted because of a certain trait, but to everyone else in the community that shares that exact trait…. It’s what makes hate crime distinctive, this message of terror that’s sent to communities.” As an example, she used the crime of graffiti. “If I take a can of black spray paint … and I go to a local Chinese restaurant and on an exterior wall I spray ‘Nancy was here,’ that’s vandalism.” But if she takes her can of paint and sprays “China virus” on that restaurant’s wall, that’s something else. “They’re both vandalism. One is annoying. The other … is a message of hate to them and to the entire community and it is more powerful and deserves a more powerful response both from a law enforcement perspective, but also from the rest of the community to send a countervailing message back,” said Appel. Then there are hate incidents, which are non-criminal acts motivated by hatred or bigotry. “It’s basically speech, for the most part,” said Appel. “It’s hateful, it can pack a similar emotional wallop for the community, but under the First Amendment, it’s protected.” Recent examples would be a message on a restaurant receipt targeting a waitress with the words, “we only tip citizens,” or a Nazi flag hung in a window targeting the family across the street, said Appel. Or an incident a few years ago at UC Davis when a flyer for the Center for African Diaspora Student Success was covered over with a sticker that said, “It’s OK to be white.” The acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Phil Talbert, noted that offensive speech or acts that don’t break the law are protected by the First Amendment. However, a threat — a serious communication of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals — is not protected. Nor are hate crimes. “These crimes target not just the individual victims that the crime is directed at, but really the entire community. It’s really an assault on the idea that we can live in a peaceful, diverse community and in enjoyment and safety with everyone else,” Talbert said. “Also, hate crimes, in particular, tend to be more violent than other crimes because… they’re message crimes,” he said. “So they are the types of crimes that we’re very concerned about.” Talbert said his office does substantial community outreach “in particular to vulnerable communities throughout the district.” And a key message to people is to contact not just local police when an incident occurs but also the FBI if it’s a suspected hate crime, he said. That number to call is 1-800-CALL-FBI. In addition to encouraging people to report hate crimes and incidents, education will remain key, members of the public — and county supervisors — said. Lisa Yep Salinas, who spearheaded passage of resolutions by governing boards throughout Yolo County after being targeted multiple times herself, said that “the big work” lies ahead. “Education, training and reporting,” said Salinas. Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis agreed. “In this country we still have people who will target you based on the way you look and make assumptions that are just so wrong and so harmful and so damaging and that’s where we have to get together and we have to constantly be educating and supporting communities. “The remedy of hate crimes is one answer,” he said, “but also education and coming together to let all communities know that whenever anyone is singled out, that we will all band together to support them. “We’re going to work together to make sure that Yolo County is not a place of hate but a place of love and a place where people live together in harmony,” said Provenza. “That’s the goal and it’s just so important that we achieve it.”

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