Spike in hate crimes keeps us aware
Published Thursday, 26-Mar-2009 in issue 1109
A three-fold spike in homophobic hate crimes in Santa Clara County over the past year is being blamed on the fallout over Proposition 8, the voter measure than banned same-sex marriage in California. More than half of all hate crimes reported in the county south of San Francisco were directed at the GLBT community. Last year, 56 percent of hate crimes were designated as homophobic. The year before, it was 15 percent.
As staggering as these numbers are, GLBT-rights activists said they are not surprised by the report.
Locally, the Deputy District Attorney in charge of hate crimes told the Gay & Lesbian Times that generally there is not a rise in hate crimes when an issue such as same-sex marriage is brought into the public’s discourse.
A hate crime is defined by law as “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part” because of the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Historically, there are two reasons for dramatic increases in reported hate crimes. First, when an issue affecting a certain minority population reaches the level of public discourse, victims are more likely to report the crime. Second, as in the case with the successful passage of Proposition 8, certain sectors of the public take victory to a more disturbing level and become “reactionary offenders.”
This was true during the 1994 Proposition 187 debate, also known as the Save Our State initiative, which was designed to prohibit illegal immigrants from using social services, health care and public education. The initiative, passed by voters, was later overturned and rescinded by a federal court. In the interim, however, the hotbed of dialogue sparked a spike in hate crimes against Latinos in California.
A report released last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center stated that the number of hate groups – like the Ku Klux Klan and Skinheads – in the United States is surging – up 48 percent since 2000, with a reported total of 888. California leads the nation with 80, a majority of which are located in Southern California.
Similarly, reports have shown a dramatic spike in white supremacy groups since President Obama, our nation’s first black president, was elected last November.
In July of last year just after Obama secured the Democratic nomination, a man tattooed with a swastika randomly assaulted an African-American man at a bar, an attack that resulted in the victim suffering severe brain damage.
In 2007, two Skinheads randomly beat up two African-American men at a gas station in East County; and another pair of skinheads beat up a Hispanic laborer at a convenience store.
While the San Diego District Attorney’s office does not have figures for 2008, it did indicate that there was a spike in hate crimes beginning in January of this year. However, it was noted that there is generally a spike during that time of year, and that many times when crimes are reviewed and reach the District Attorney’s office, they are not prosecuted because frequently the suspect cannot be identified.
In San Diego’s GLBT community, we know all too well about hate-related crimes directed toward us. Last year, a woman returning from a rally at San Diego State University on marriage equality was attacked and choked while the perpetrator shouted anti-gay epithets. Every year at Pride, our community is on heightened alert, as the largest civic event in San Diego takes to the streets – and headlines.
In response to the attacks we have endured, our community has united and put systems in place to help keep a watchful eye out for reactionary offenders. The Stonewall Citizens Patrol has given us a sense of security as it patrols the streets, with increased patrols during peak hours and the addition of a second vehicle last year. The Tavern Guild joined in the efforts after the attacks during Pride 2006. There are ongoing efforts from the Human Relations Commission to increase public awareness, and the San Diego Police Department has a liaison dedicated to the GLBT Community.
The public dialogue on same-sex marriage is not likely to end soon. The California Supreme Court has until the beginning of June to issue a ruling on arguments challenging Proposition 8.
A public-opinion poll released last week found that prospective voters remain deeply divided over the issue of same-sex unions. Forty-eight percent said they would vote to repeal the proposition. Forty-seven percent would vote to maintain the ban. Five percent are undecided.
We must remember to look out for our brothers and sisters when headed to and from bars and restaurants, marches, GLBT events or even when strolling along the street hand in hand in the comfort zone we so often take for granted here in San Diego. We must not let our guard down. Rather, we must remember that at the very core of “community” is the inherent responsibility to look out for one another.