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Protesters demand hate crime policy

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday June 11, 2002

The newly-formed Hate Crime Emergency Response Team is getting impatient with the city’s handling of hate crimes and plans to funnel its frustrations at a rally on the steps of old City Hall today. 

“The city has not done anything,” said Osama Qasem, a member of the young coalition of ethnic groups, which was formed to urge the city to response to what Qasem calls a “rash” of post-Sept. 11 hate crimes in Berkeley. 

A number of proposals, ranging from $5,000 rewards for hate crime information to creating a police hate crime unit, were put forth at a heavily-attended City Council meeting last month. But wanting more information, council voted 5-3 to seek advice from the city manager before implementing the measures. 

Today’s 6 p.m. rally is dubbed the “6-11 Plan,” named for today’s date – nine months after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In a written statement organizers said that their effort “seeks to repair the fabric of the community torn apart by the drastic increase in hate crimes and fear since 9-11.” 

But members of the council majority who voted to study the measures are calling today’s rally a political ploy. They claim that their council colleagues are misrepresenting as opposition to hate crime policy their wish for more information. 

“Do you want to make headlines or do you want to solve problems,” asked Councilmember Polly Armstrong, saying that the manner in which the city should respond to hate crimes is now in the hands of the city manager, where it should be, and out of politics. 

“Dealing with people who have rallies and scream the loudest is not the way to address this issue,” she added. 

To the dismay of Armstrong – as well as Mayor Shirley Dean and councilmembers Betty Olds, Polly Armstrong, Miriam Hawley and Maudelle Shirek who also voted to pass matters to the city manager – Councilmember Kriss Worthington has put forth another set of hate crimes measures for City Council to consider. These items are scheduled for discussion at tonight’s City Council meeting. 

Worthington’s proposal includes two ideas: holding a town hall meeting on hate crime and endorsing a federal hate crimes bill. The proposal includes two other proposals considered last month but were sent to the city manager for further consideration. The ideas were to offer money as a reward for hate crime information and to provide a diversity of hate training for police. 

“These are things we can do immediately. They don’t take time to study,” said Worthington, noting that council needs to act now and show the community that it takes hate crime seriously. 

“It’s been nine weeks since hate crime measures have been proposed and City Council has still not acted on anything,” he said. 

Councilmember Armstrong disagreed, claiming that city staff is working hard on the issue. He said that Worthington’s proposal means little. 

“Even though he’s been defeated, he’s bringing it back again,” she said in disbelief. 

Among the recent crimes that council is hoping to respond to include a March incident in which a brick was thrown through a glass door of the Berkeley Hillel, an April hoax in which phony anthrax letters were sent to members of the Hispanic community, and bomb threats made to each of the city’s Jewish temples. 


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