Hate crime is the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. The purveyors of hate use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to more attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious and fearful. When perpetrators of hate are not prosecuted as criminals and their acts not publicly condemned, their crimes can weaken even those communities with the healthiest race relations.
— U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service
If burning an 11-foot-tall cross outside the bedroom of a black teenage girl does not fit the above definition — what would? Clearly, this was an action meant to “hurt and intimidate,” and it obviously left the victim and her mother vulnerable and fearful.
As many Tribune readers pointed out in letters and on-line comments, it was disappointing, then, that one of the immediate responses of Arroyo Grande’s mayor was to express concern that this not be portrayed as a hate crime.
It was equally disheartening to hear this initially characterized as a possible prank by a police official.Clearly, this is not the time to be concerned about public relations.
Rather, this is the time to unite in condemnation of this act and to acknowledge that no place — no matter how quiet, how seemingly accepting, how removed from big-city violence — is immune from hate crimes.Remember, it was just a few years ago — 2008 — that a noose, a Confederate flag and a racist, anti-gay sign were displayed at a Cal Poly Halloween party.
So it’s dismaying that officials in Arroyo Grande initially seemed to be downplaying the seriousness of the incident there. By Monday, however, no one connected with the city was using the term “prank.”
One Monday afternoon, the Police Department issued an official release announcing preliminary findings of an “arson and hate crime investigation.” Police also announced that they are working with the FBI, the state Department of Justice, the county Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office. The city of Arroyo Grande also is offering a $2,500 award, and Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward.
Let’s hope these efforts have speedy results.
This was an outrageous and deliberate act — not a matter of some drunken teenagers or college students randomly tossing eggs at houses or stealing pumpkins on Halloween.
If anyone saw or heard anything, this is the time to step forward and show that we, as a community, can recognize the difference between a relatively harmless prank and a deliberate crime of hatred.
Anyone with information about the Arroyo Grande arson and hate crime should contact police at 473-5100 or Crime Stoppers at 549-7867. Submit an anonymous tip on the Crime Stoppers website or text SLOTIPS plus your message to CRIMES (274637).