The following was addressed to Berkeley City Council and the Berkeley School Board.
A few years ago my kids were victims of racial attack in our local park. It was not investigated as a hate crime. We live in the historically black neighborhood of South Berkeley, perhaps now the most racially and economically diverse area of the city. My sons are white and the boys and parents who encouraged this attack were black. The park was filled with families; no one did anything to stop the violence. They watched my 13-year-old get kicked repeatedly in the head. It is not difficult to understand how deeply impacted we were by this brutality and bigotry. Worse yet is living in a community where there is a code of silence from the city and school leadership about racial violence against whites.
Since that day we have seen more and more of the boys we know become victims. Many do not believe it worthwhile to make police reports. Some contact the police and are told that this type of violence is a part of the youth culture; others learn this has been going on for years and it is a shame. Rarely have I seen the responsible youth held accountable or the racial factor identified or discussed. A few weeks ago two 11-year-olds were slugged in the head at the corner store. In this case the victim’s parents were so upset and demanding of the police that they got some action. Another change was when I went over to the park and spoke to the recreation program directors, who then asked around the center, found out who was involved, called the parents, and the kids were held accountable. This is the way a community can share common values. However, there is resentment from some because the police came around and because the victim’s mother was so upset. There is still much dialogue and understanding needed to move forward. .
I spoke out about my experience at the City of Berkeley Hate Crimes Forum last year. I felt supported and validated by the closing statement from City Manager Weldon Rucker. Rucker acknowledged that our community needed to improve its response and understanding of black on white teen violence. The local newspaper account of the forum left this out of their reporting. The reporter gave a detailed account of all the speakers except for the parents who spoke about this issue. I sent a letter to the editor, which was not published.
How is this silence helping the community? It does not help the targets or the perpetrators. In fact, the silence continues to assign kids these roles while the adults ignore their responsibilities.
At the end of the last school year, hate graffiti appeared in South Berkeley. I contacted the Public Works Department to remove the graffiti. It took four neighbors complaining and over a week to get the graffiti removed from the second location. While one police officer told me “it must be intimidating for white kids who have been victimized to read a message that says “ Whitey will pay,” another officer suggested that “whitey” could be someone’s name.
I know exactly what was meant by the graffiti. I have lived in south Berkeley for 25 years and been chased by “ratpacks,” bitch-slapped by angry teenage girls who had been out all night drinking and doing drugs, told to get my white ass out of the neighborhood and, worst of all, the stomping of my son in the park. My sons have heard “no white kids in the park” yelled at them when going to sports practice. The answers should be in the data collected by the police and the schools. How many white kids have been the target of this bigotry and ignored?
The victims are further harmed by the code of silence. It is not safe to discuss how they felt targeted because of their skin color. In questioning this silence I hope to encourage parents and community leaders to adopt common community values for our kids and develop a sense of our shared humanity.
Laura Menard has been a South Berkeley resident for 25 years.