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Minority groups demand hate crime policies

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday May 28, 2002

Minority activists of numerous descents took to heart the idiom “strength in numbers” Monday and joined together on the steps of Old City Hall to speak out against the rising incidence of hate crime. 

Having recently swayed San Francisco leaders to channel more city dollars into preventing and responding to acts of religious and racial hatred, the coalition representing five different ethnic advocacies is now urging the city of Berkeley to do the same. 

Their multi-racial campaign follows a rash of post-September 11 hate incidents in the Bay Area, including Berkeley where coalition members say the number of hate crimes over the past two years is on track to quadruple the historical average. 

A March incident in which letters with phony anthrax were mailed to Hispanic organizations and an April series of bomb threats to Jewish temples tally into the 15 hate crimes that have occurred in Berkeley over the past four months. 

Among the measures urged Monday by the multi-racial coalition are response training for police officers, teacher preparedness in schools and the creation of living-room discussion groups in Berkeley neighborhoods. 

“Everyone needs to buy in to creating a response together,” insisted Jill Tregor, executive director of Intergroup Clearinghouse and a co-founder of the coalition. She emphasized the importance of having anti-hate programs that would reach out to as much of the city as possible. 

While no specifics on how the city should proceed were laid out at Monday’s gathering, the activist pleas came just one day before Berkeley’s City Council is expected to consider a hate crime policy of its own authorship. 

Two proposals are on tonight’s council agenda. 

The first is sponsored by Councilmember Kriss Worthington and calls for the formation of a specialized police task force that would address hate crimes, much like exists in San Francisco and Oakland. 

The second proposal is sponsored by Mayor Shirley Dean and directs police to amend their schedules in order to prioritize prevention and investigation of hate crimes, though it stops short of creating an exclusive police unit. 

Worthington was on hand at Monday’s gathering where he drew fast support for his plan urging the separate crimes unit. 

While Worthington said the city can’t afford anything less, Dean, who has put crime-fighting at the forefront of her young re-election campaign, has said that an exclusive hate crime unit is beyond the city’s current financial means. 

Osama Qasem, president of the Bay Area chapter’s American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a co-founder of the multiracial coalition, said that money spent fighting hate crime would pay for itself in other ways. 

“Keeping Berkeley’s reputation as a city of tolerance has a lot of economic value,” he noted. 

None of the hate-crime proposals has thus far identified a cost of implementation. 

Avoiding such details, the dozen or so activists at Monday’s gathering were staunch in their insistence that several minority groups be part of the effort to absolve hate. 

“The people who have been targeted have been a diversity of people,” said Mini Kahlon, representing the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, noting that uniting the various peoples would strengthen their political voice. 

The groups affirming the joint mission included the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, the Islamic Network Group, Chinese for Affirmative Action, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Intergroup Clearinghouse. 

Kahlon added that she would be pushing for more anti-crime programs in schools. “I think kids are getting hit particularly hard,” she said. 

She touted the Unlearning Hate program at Berkeley High School as a model for how other schools could use peer-counseling to address issues of race and religion. 

On hand with Councilmember Worthington was Councilmember Linda Maio who confirmed that the city was moving forward in its fight against hate crime. 

“What we’re engaged in is responding the way, I think, the community wants us to,” she said. 

City Council’s expected actions, in regard to hate crime, will be significant, Maio suggested, though she did not specify whether she favored creating a separate police unit or adding to existing police resources. 


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