Editor: A week ago a Hate Crimes Summit was held out in El Cajon. Local OBcean John Falchi covered it. He filed this report:
by John Falchi
I’m a long-time resident of OB, and I have been covering the increased amount of hate crime and hate speech in San Diego County in recent years. In that connection I wanted to present some highlights of the recent Hate Crimes Summit sponsored by United for a Hate Free San Diego at El Cajon’s Ronald Reagen Community Center on Thursday, October 1, 2009.
Hate crimes, hate groups and hate behavior are proliferating across the U.S. according to James McElroy, CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center(SPLC). He delivered the keynote address to an overflow crowd at the Summit, recently.
There are a number of factors involved in this, according to McElroy, these include:
- that in difficult economic times scapegoating increases;
- there has been an increase in the Patriot Movement and the Militia Movement;
- there is strong anti-immigrant sentiment spewing forth from major radio and television networks like CNN and Fox.
To counter this growth in hate crimes, etc., the SPLC has a very comprehensive educational program which presents “Teaching Tolerance” materials to the schools, a Monthly “Intelligence Report” to over 60,000 people involved in law enforcement around the country, and short documentary videos on hate crime, hate behavior, and hate groups to many non profit organizations.
McElroy went on to say that:
There, also, is a growth of Hate Groups across the country. In the past year they have risen from 888 to 926, with 84 of these Hate Groups in CA, and most of these in Southern California.
He, also, indicated how the SPLC has been successful in suing many of these groups, helping to put them out of business.
The Summit featured an address by Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore, Lori Saldana, the founder of the UFHFSD Coalition. She emphasized that:
With this growth in Hate Groups in our area in recent years, the number of hate crimes has risen.25% in 2007 in the city of San Diego , and 35% in the county of San Diego , according to the latest FBI statistics. The incidence of hate crimes against Hispanic Groups in this county has tripled in this same time.
In fact, it was the incidence of discriminatory behavior against immigrants during the fires in San Diego County just a couple of years ago that pointed to the need to build this interfaith coalition of leaders who would go out into the community to counter the hate crime with education.
It has now grown to 72 civic and clerical organizations, and has presented to, and received endorsements from, the San Diego City Council, the San Diego Area Governments organization, and many City Councils around the county.
This gathering, also, included a panel of experts, consisting of: Deputy Commander of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Gary Chambers; Deputy District Attorney, Oscar Garcia; parent of a student who had been attacked, Denise Brown; Educational Advocate and former School Principal, Marge Cole; and human rights advocate, Morris Casuto, of the Anti-Defamation League.
The panel chose not to give set speeches, but instead answered questions from the audience and from M.C., Rev. Ikenna Kokayi, CEO of the United African Ministerial Action Council, who posed some case study scenarios to the panel.
(Editor: to get a sense of what was covered at the Summit, John interviewed one of the Summit organizers.)
A Portrait of a Remarkable Organizer
In connection with the Summit, I interviewed Estela de Los Rios, one of the San Diego leaders in the effort to shed a little light on this increase in hate crime. Estela is Executive Director of the Center for Social Advocacy and the Summit Chair Person. According to Estela, “Quite a few hate crimes have been connected with schools.”
Many may remember, because of its prominence in the national news, the hate crime incident in which an African-American male, a U.S. Marine, came to a high school party in the Grossmont High School District . According to Estela:
He was assaulted and beaten by five males, near the school, and paralyzed from the neck down; that was national news, featured on 60 Minutes. The Sheriff was involved and two kids wee prosecuted, not for attempted murder, however, maybe assault, they spent a few months in jail. They received slap on the hands.
A more recent incident occurred in October 2007 at West Hills High School . It took place on campus against an African-American student. The student was severely beaten and needed reconstructive surgery. Why was he beaten? They told him because he was a n****r and they didn’t like him. It was a White Supremacy group. It was even reported to the Sheriff’s Office. The worst part is that the school didn’t do anything. So it went to an attorney and there was a settlement. This is the reason I’m so angry. Nothing was done.
She mentioned another case:
A Mexican-Anerican student at the same school was shot in the eye off –site. According to the Santee Sheriff’s report: 911 was called. Kids confided that he was taunted ‘Just admit you wish you were white.’ He wouldn’t admit it. The report indicated he was shot at close range in the eye. The party was of all students from the district high school. The shooter was a White Supremacist, 16, or17. “The victim’s parents are trying to sue the family. We’re trying to get a student to come forward. They are fearful he will be killed. The boy’s eye is gone.”
Estela became tearful. “It was cruel. Nothing was done with law enforcement. Silence is acceptance.”
For de los Rios, hate-motivated violence in schools conjures up painful memories. Originally from Mexico , she didn’t know a word of English when she came here, and now she holds a B.S. in Sociology from SDSU. In 1982, she moved to San Diego and became more involved in helping others. She told me:
People are treated differently here due to language barriers and cultural issues. I have three kids–17, 21, 23. I was widowed three years ago. I think it just made me stronger. I’ve always faced oppressions, being a woman, being of color, and coming out of poverty. I’ve made that oppression a strength.
Daughter of an immigrant who worked as a housekeeper, de los Rios grew up in the Imperial Valley picking grapes. A history teacher taught her about Rosa Parks, the African-American woman whose refusal to give her up seat to a white person on a bus helped spark the civil rights movement. She said:
That resonated with me. I knew some people were treated differently. In fourth and fifth grade, white students would throw rocks and tell me to go back home.
Tears were forming in her eyes at the memory.
It was very hurtful to me…it became something in me, my drive to do something. It’s not right for one person to be valued more because of the color of their skin.
After receiving her Sociology degree from San Diego State University , she returned to her high school in Brawley to implement a migrant outreach program. “I was empowering people. I enjoyed that role,” she said. In later years she worked in a healthcare clinic, a mental health facility, as a juvenile hall group supervisor, and as a housing specialist in Santa Clara before moving to San Diego .
She is also passionate about helping immigrants, having traveled to Chiapas , Mexico , and seen children with bellies bloated from starvation and met women worried that their men, who have gone to the U.S. in search of work, may never return home due to the dangers that they face. “I see the injustice, the sacrifices and hard work in these families just to be respected in this country,” said de los Rios, who is determined that no child should suffer racial or hate-motivated violence in East County .
Her work, currently, includes advocacy on behalf of those affected by human trafficking and immigration. She serves on the boards of Borderlinks and Empower San Diego, and is an international leader for Justice Overcoming Boundaries. She points to some success stories, such as a program that she has presented for the Anti-Defamation League to teach tolerance to students. She has sent letters to Grossmont Union High School District Superintendent Bob Collins asking to present the program in local high schools, but said she has not received a response.
One of Estela’s major concerns is the matter of inadequate statistics kept about hate crimes in the San Diego area. “Many incidents are not being recorded correctly,” she believes. “Some cases of domestic violence appear to be hate crimes, where the victim is in a protected class, but they are placed in a separate category of statistics. Other hate-related crimes are reported as gang-related,” she said, “when a lot of these incidents should be reported as hate crimes. Violence between white supremacist and Latino or African –American gangs, e.g., are often not reported as hate crimes even where race is a key factor.”
On the date of our interview there was a trial of the man who attacked Rhythm Turner, the gay musician assaulted for being gay, in Pacific Beach . “That, too, was not charged as a hate crime,” de Los Rios noted.
When asked why we need to have a United for Hate Free San Diego? Mrs. De Los Rios responded, “For two reasons: One, to educate and provide awareness of hate motivated behavior in the San Diego region, and two, to give more strategic legislative action on how to address these incidents and crimes.”
John Falchi, an educator most of his life and, has served on the boards of a number of major non-profit organizations, and has been very involved in the renovation of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. Last year John won the “Shameless Agitator” award from the Church.