Mayor Dean honored for fighting hate crimes

Daily Planet Wire Services
Wednesday May 22, 2002

BERKELEY — A Berkeley group concerned about a recent rash of racially-motivated hate crimes in the city honored Mayor Shirley Dean Tuesday for her efforts to bring the crimes to a quick halt. 

The Berkeley Task Force Fighting Hate Crimes was formed recently by residents responding to several incidents in the city targeting the Jewish, Hispanic, gay and black communities. 

In March, someone threw a brick through the front glass window of the Berkeley Hillel on Bancroft Way, just a couple of days before someone wrote an expletive targeting Jews at the center. 

Also that month, Hispanic organizations throughout the Bay Area — including several in Berkeley — received disparaging letters that contained anthrax threats, while the words “kill gays and blacks’’ were spray-painted on the side of a building. 

On April 4, the phrase “Kill Jews’’ was spray-painted on the side of a Sixth Street building, and the phrase “Palestinian blood on our hands’’ was found scrawled on a sidewalk. 

Soon after, Dean spoke out about the offensive acts and ordered all of the offending graffiti cleaned. She proposed that the city develop a comprehensive program to address hate crimes, focusing on prosecution and prevention. 

Dean asked that the Anti-Defamation League be enlisted to train police officers on all of aspects of hate crimes, and that certain officers be assigned to investigate hate crimes as their main priority. 

Dean also asked the city manager to take inventory of all hate crimes in the city and to compile a database of the incidents. 

“Without a clear expression of our community’s disgust at these aggressive and anonymous expressions of hate, and a rededication of the city’s available resources to exposing, preventing and eliminating them, we have abdicated our responsibility to protect the basic freedoms of all our residents,’’ Dean said. “What hurts one individual hurts us all.’’ 

Avi Rosenfeld, a coordinator with the anti-hate task force, said the mayor was the first public official to not only talk about the issue of hate crimes, but to propose specific actions to combat them. 

“She was the only person in public life to take official notice and to very clearly say how intolerable it is and how this problem has been addressed,’’ Rosenfeld said. 

For her actions, the group presented the mayor with an anti-hate button today and expressed appreciation for her response. 

“It was horrifying that in our Berkeley, the social fabric is being torn apart, and that what we consider the paradigm of a tolerant and pluralistic society is being torn down,’’ Rosenfeld said. 

Rosenfeld says the fledgling task force wants to help educate the public about the dangers of hate. The group is also considering whether it should press forward with plans to create a police crime unit in the city. 

Rosenfeld said the group is in the process of collecting data on hate crimes to see if such a unit would be beneficial to Berkeley. 

The group has a Web site at http://groups.yahoo.com/ group/fighthatecrimeberkeley.