State agency moves to assist reporting of hate crimes

By Paul Chavez, Associated Press Writer
Friday October 05, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Victims of hate crimes arising from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have a new hotline for help in California. 

Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council said the campaign by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing was timely because Muslims and others continue to be the victims of backlash violence and harassment following the attacks. 

“We have seen a backlash of violent incidents against American Muslims and those who appear to be Muslims,” Al-Marayati said during a press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California, which is under police guard. 

“We saw the backlash spike immediately after the (attacks) and that was expected,” he said. “We have seen it come back up again probably because now there are people again on the attack trying to defame Islam.” 

The hate crime initiative includes a new toll-free telephone number (866-460-HELP) that gives victims immediate access to Fair Employment and Housing counselors who can tell them of services available and refer them to local district attorneys, if necessary, said Dennis Hayashi, director of the state agency. 

“We can set up appointments in two to three minutes for people who call our hot line,” Hayashi said. “We feel strongly that there needs to be a sense of urgency for these types of incidents.” 

The campaign also includes training sessions for attorneys to teach them the intricacies of hate-crime laws. 

The first training session will be held Tuesday in Los Angeles and will be followed by one in Sacramento, said Roland Coleman, president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. 

The training is important because the litigation of hate crimes is a specialized area of law and in some situations victims will be entitled to monetary damages, Coleman said. 

In an existing program, victims of hate-crime violence who file complaints with the Fair Employment and Housing agency can be awarded damages up to $150,000 for emotional distress, property damages, lost wages and medical expenses. The agency also can seek restraining orders and civil fines up to $25,000. 

Al-Marayati, who also is a member of the Islamic Center, said about 100 Muslims have called to complain of being harassed and intimidated since the attacks. Most of the calls deal with Muslim women being harassed for wearing a headscarf and children being taunted at school. 

He also noted the recent attack on a Hispanic man in Lancaster by two men who have been charged with hate crimes. The men allegedly chased home 47-year-old Gerard Pimentel, kicked in his front door and shouted anti-Middle Eastern slurs as they beat him. 

An Arab-American convenience store owner in Fresno County also was shot and killed last weekend in what his family believes was a hate crime. 

The Fair Employment and Housing agency also is translating information on the new toll-free number and state laws regarding hate crimes into Middle Eastern and South Asian languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Punjabi.