I picked up a message from my friend Daniel Shad via Facebook about the Hate Incident that occurred at the office of Equality California in Santa Ana. What happened, and how the responding police officers handled the matter raises a few questions for me. But before we get to those, read through Daniel’s commentary from his Facebook posts and the commentaryÂ of his volunteer Mel Distel first.
Daniel Shad So… We got to the office today and there was a noose tied to the front door… It wasn’t extremely threatening, but to be safe we called the police to file a report… When the police showed up the male officer said, “Well… Sometimes you just have to live with being a victim.”… Not cool dude. Not cool.
Daniel Shad For those of you wondering about the events of tonight, here is a very good post by Mel Distel about what happened tonight at the EQCA office in Orange County.
What Happened Tonight: Hanging a Noose on Someone’s Door is Not a Crime
by Mel Distel on Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 10:36pm
I’m still shaking as I write this.Â I feel confused.
Tonight I arrived to unlock the office while Daniel was picking up scripts at Kinkos. There was a small noose hanging from the door handle.Â Being that we are an organization advocating for gay rights, I felt the message like a chill through my spine.Â This was intentional.Â At the encouragement of fellow activists, I called the Santa Ana Police Department and officers were sent out to our office.
I couldn’t get the image out of my head.Â I smoked a cigarette outside the office and my thoughts were spinning.Â I felt jumpy, and was startled when any person or car crossed my line of vision.Â This was a message of hate, and I felt unsafe.Â Inside the office, our phone bankers were shocked and hurting.Â They continued on with their phone bank calls (vote for Melissa Fox) and worked to stay focused on the task at hand.Â
I could not focus.Â I could barely make calls.Â I waited for the police to arrive, believing that when they did I would feel safe and affirmed.Â
When the police arrived, two officers spoke to Daniel and myself outside.Â The male officer dominated the conversation.Â There was nothing they could do, of course, there was no suspect and no crime had been committed. The officer said “what it is, is a string on a door.”Â My vision got blurry, I was embarrassed and felt stupid for making the call.Â I took a deep breath and said “Do you see any correlation between the fact that this is a gay office and there was a noose left on our door in the wake of all of these teen suicides?”Â The officer said, “Sometimes you just have to live with being a victim,” and proceeded to mention that his car had been broken into before. As if that’s the same. As if having your stereo stolen is anything like the message “You should kill yourself.”Â As if random theft is anything like an act meant to convey hate and stir up fear in the heart of a minority group.
I want to thank Karla for having a long discussion with the sergeant about the situation.Â No, it was not legally a hate crime, because there was no crime (just hate). And the officer likely did not intend to come off the way he did.
But I’m still in shock.Â I pray that no officer ever tells a bullied teen that, “sometimes you just have to live with being a victim.”Â The officer made me feel foolish for being shocked and afraid.Â I feel stupid and unjustified.Â Our volunteers felt hurt, angered and confused.
I am so grateful for the excellent family of volunteers who came together tonight, supported each other, worked through their emotions, and even made an astonishing number of phone bank calls.
I am sorry for anyone who has experienced hate or intimidation, and my heart goes out to anyone who has reported it and been made to feel stupid for reaching out for help.Â
Stay strong, Orange County, the fight for tolerance has not yet been won.
I have to wonder why the response from the Santa Ana Police officerÂ was so insensitive. Maybe, he didn’t know what to say, maybe he wasn’t informed about how such incidents should be handled.
What Is A Hate Crime?
California Penal Code section 422.55, defines Hate Crime as being a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: Disability, Gender, Nationality, Race or Ethnicity, Religion, Sexual Orientation, or association with a person or group of persons with one or more of the preceding actual or perceived characteristics.
Examples- painting racist, homophobic and/or religious graffiti on private property; burning a cross on an individual’s lawn; an assault; a criminal threat of violence against an individual or group; attempted murder or murder.
A bias related incident is behavior that is motivated by hate or bias towards a person’s actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation but that is not criminal in nature. Typically these behaviors are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
If this type of activity escalates to threats being made or carried out against a person or property, or becomes an incitement to commit violence it would be classified as a hate crime.
Examples- the distribution of non-threatening racist flyers in a public place; displaying non-threatening anti-gay or lesbian placards at a parade or funeral; writing a letter to the editor ridiculing people with disabilities; painting racist graffiti on a freeway overpass.
A hate crime or incident may have occurred if any of the following were present:
- There was a perception that the victim was targeted because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion etc.
- The perpetrator wrote or spoke in a manner that indicated bias.
- The date of the incident or crime coincides with a date that is of significance to the victim’s religion, nationality, ethnicity etc.
If the incident did not rise to the level of a crime, it clearly rises to the level of a Hate Incident and the officers should have communicated to the “victims” how to report the incident. However, on its face, there appears to have been a crime committed here.
IfÂ you find that you have been a victim of aÂ hate crimeÂ in Orange County, Contact the Orange County Human Relations Commission atÂ 1-888-NO-2-HATE and report the occurrence OC Human Relations.