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Rise in hate crimes pushes city to action

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Monday May 13, 2002

Amid ongoing conflict in the Middle East, dozens of incidents meant to hurt or harass Berkeley’s Jewish community have been reported over the past two months. 

During one week in April, every Jewish temple in Berkeley received a bomb threat, according to the Berkeley Police Department. 

In addition, police reports indicate that two Orthodox Jews, traditionally-dressed, were assaulted on Claremont Avenue on April 4. A brick was hurled through a window of the Berkeley Hillel on March 28. A telephone message saying “Jews should be Holocausted” was received at Temple Beth El. The list goes on. 

“Hate crimes are like a disease. There are people out there who have it and are spreading it,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It needs to be stopped.” 

So, in a city that has long extolled the virtue of tolerance, Berkeley leaders are fixing limits on just how much intolerance they’ll take, and they are firming up their no-tolerance stance on hate. 

This week, the Berkeley Police Department is expected to receive directive to ramp up their pursuit of perpetrators of racially- and religiously-aimed violence. 

The question, expected to go before City Council Tuesday night, is just how exactly the department should go about gearing up for the pursuit. 

A proposal authored by Mayor Shirley Dean, in addition to urging a number of diversity awareness programs, calls for certain police personnel to be trained on how to identify and respond to hate crimes. 

The specially-trained officers would be directed to make hate crimes their top investigative priority, but the proposal stops short of what some other councilmembers are pushing for — a unit devoted exclusively to hate crime. 

“The department doesn’t have the number of officers that would enable them to create a special unit,” said Dean. She added that after conversations with Police Chief Daschel Butler, her plan appears to be the most effective way to marshal existing police resources against hate. 

Councilmember Worthington has a similar, but slightly different proposal on the table at tomorrow night’s council meeting. His proposal was intended for consideration earlier in the year, he said, but did not previously make the council’s crowded agendas. 

Worthington’s plan, though similarly aimed at reducing hate crimes, calls for the creation of an exclusive hate crime unit within the Berkeley Police Department, for “prevention, pro-active education, and criminal investigation.” 

The councilmember said that nothing short of this would adequately address the growing problem of hate in Berkeley, and said that he wouldn’t be inclined to accept a “watered-down” version of his proposal. 

“Other cities have found a way to create hate crime units. So can we,” Worthington said. 

“Over 100 e-mails have come in to city councilmembers to request a hate crime unit,” he added.  

Larger cities like Oakland and San Francisco have created the specialized unit within their police forces, but the unit is uncommon in smaller cities. The cost of having a unit in Berkeley has not yet been discussed. 

In addition to the recent violence against Jews, Hispanics were the target of several derogatory letters containing an intimidating, though non-toxic, white power on March 11 in Berkeley, according to police. 

Police reports also document recent incidents of graffiti articulating slurs against Arabs. 

“The problem just seems to be escalating,” said Dean. 


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