The number of hate crimes occurring in Berkeley is appalling and deeply disturbing. Today, a member of my staff heard the hate and threats left on the answering machine of a prominent local rabbi. Last Thursday, two clearly identifiable Orthodox Jews were severely beaten, anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on trash cans, and a brick was thrown through a window of Hillel House.
Friday’s newspaper carries a story that Jewish students were also beaten up last semester, and that Hillel had been vandalized with vulgar language painted across the front. I heard from students at a Jewish community dinner say they are afraid to walk through Sproul Plaza even during broad daylight because they will be called names or someone will spit on them.
Last week, a hateful message against African Americans and gays was painted across a house in West Berkeley. It apparently stayed there for several days.
A few weeks ago, Hispanic attorneys and organizations in Berkeley and elsewhere received hate mail laced with white powder. Fortunately this wasn’t anthrax, but the message of hate and fear was unmistakable.
Residents told me of storekeepers who are Middle Eastern or Indian being called names. I followed up with the storekeepers, and found at least some that are willing to say this is true.
This is shameful.
Whether directed at members of our Jewish, Hispanic, Indian community or any individual, these actions reflect poorly on all of us. As one community we must say in no uncertain terms—THIS STOPS NOW!
Berkeley, if it stands for anything, must be free of this disgrace. It must be a place of civil discourse. A place where ideas can be expressed with respect for others and without fear of reprisal for engaging in the debate. Sending hate mail is not free speech because it shows no respect for the rights and feelings of others and is frequently done behind the mask of anonymity. People must feel they can express their ideas, practice their beliefs and explore issues wherever they are in our community, and do so without fear of reprisal for who they are. People just might learn something from each other where an exchange of ideas can occur in safety.
What can we as individual do?
We can do a lot. Let us each, by example, set a community standard that hate has no place in our community. Let us each speak out against those who spread hate rather than light. Make it known that we do not tolerate ethnic slurs or hateful behavior toward others. Let us each instill into our children the values of respect for others and civil behavior as the way to settle disputes. Let us each pledge here and now to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Each one of us must be a part of making Berkeley a community free of hate.