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City stalls hate crime policy

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Thursday May 30, 2002


Amid grand expectations of Berkeley residents and the hungry eye of local television crews, City Council froze in the spotlight Tuesday and made no move on much-anticipated hate crime legislation at their weekly meeting. 

The measures up for consideration ranged from $5000 rewards for hate crime information to the establishment of a special police unit focusing exclusively on the investigation of crimes motivated by racial and religious zeal. 

Unable to win a majority vote among themselves on any of the measures, City Council referred the items to the city manager, asking him and his staff to study them, make a recommendation, and bring them back to council at an unspecified date. 

“If you have a hate crime in a community it takes a lot more than one big meeting to solve the problem,” said Mayor Shirley Dean after Tuesday’s meeting. 

Still, there was disappointment that city leaders didn’t act on what many are calling a “rash” of local hate crimes. One independent survey counted 18 hate crimes in Berkeley during the last four months. 

“There have been resolutions on the table for a long time. I don’t see why council couldn’t have adopted at least some of them,” said Osama Qasem, president of the Bay Area chapter’s American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. 

“The delay is showing that the city is not making this a top priority and sends a bad sign to other organizations working on the hate crime issue,” he said. 

Siding with Qasem were councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Linda Maio, and Dona Spring. The three voted in favor of all hate crime measures that came up Tuesday, while Mayor Shirley Dean and councilmembers Betty Olds, Polly Armstrong, Miriam Hawley and Maudelle Shirek demanded more information before they were willing to pledge their support. 

“It takes time to work on these things,” said Dean. 

But other councilmembers disagreed. 

“We could have done something last [Tuesday] night,” claimed Worthington. “For seven weeks the city has dawdled and offered no public official response [to recent hate crimes].” 

Among the list of recent crimes includes a March 28 incident in which a brick was thrown through a glass door of the Berkeley Hillel on Bancroft Way. Also in March, phony anthrax letters were received by members of the Hispanic community and in April, bomb threats were called in to each of the city’s Jewish temples. 

One measure that Worthington proposed on Tuesday called for financial rewards for people who furnished information that led to the arrest of hate crime perpetuators. 

“It’s unimaginable that our City Council would not vote for a measly $5000 reward,” Worthington said after the measure was denied by the reoccuring 3-5 vote. 

The other three measures, which met similar fates, proposed the creation of a hate free zone in Berkeley, sensitivity training for police and the establishment of a police hate crimes unit. 

The proposal for additional police training, sponsored by Mayor Dean, drew unexpected criticism. 

Concern was raised Tuesday that the organization specified to conduct the police training was not appropriate. The group recommended is the Anti Defamation League which touts itself as a Jewish civil rights group. 

“The ADL has a bad track record on civil rights,” said Berkeley resident Erica Etelson, a member of the National Lawyers Guild. 

Etlelson alleged that the organization has been involved in espionage which landed the group in a recent federal lawsuit. 

ADL officials, though, downplayed the residents’ concerns, noting that they have a 90-year track record of working with law enforcement agencies to fight hate crimes. The organization has trained Federal Bureau of Investigation agents as well as police officers in Oakland and San Francisco. 

“In our line of work, there’s always going to be people who don’t agree with what we do,” said Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Central Pacific region of the ADL. 

But several Berkeley residents contend that Berkeley’s police training should not be managed by one group, and suggested that other ethnic and religious groups be included in the training process. 

The city manager’s office is expected to weigh in on this and other issues and report back to council within the next few months.