On November 26, the Davis Islamic Center received an anonymous letter from a group purporting to be “Americans for a Better Way.”
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig called a press conference to stand united against hatred in our community. Leaders, he said, “have come together to declare our commitment to standing up and fighting against hate crimes and hate incidents.”
“We stand with our diverse communities at a time when hate crimes across the nation and the region are on the rise,” he said. “As the District Attorney I simply want the community to know that we will vigorously investigate and prosecute all crimes that we can prove in this regard.”
DA Reisig said that he and others are committed to “ensuring that our diverse community in Yolo County feels safe.”
He said, “If you see a hate incident, report it, we will act.”
Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said that any complaint received by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department “is going to be rigorously enforced and we will investigate every single complaint that we see.”
However, as Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel indicated, the letter that was sent does not represent a hate crime, as it does not have a specific and actionable threat against a group. Instead, it is classified as a hate incident.
Carlos Matos is the Chair of the Multi-Cultural Community Council (MCCC) started by DA Jeff Reisig a few years ago. He said, “This is one time when we all stand together and we all speak with one voice. So whatever that hate letter was trying to do – what it has done for us is (it) united everybody.”
Hamza El-Nakhal, former president of the Islamic Center of Davis, and member of the MCCC, called the letter “very ugly and hateful.”
He read from it, and the letter, similar to those sent across the nation, called Muslims “vile” and “filthy,” stating that “your day of reckoning has arrived.”
The handwritten letter said, “There’s a new sheriff in town, “President Donald Trump.”
The letter continued, “He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.
“You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge,” it concluded. “This is a great time for Patriotic Americans. Long live President Trump and God bless the USA.”
He said “even before that letter, the rhetoric was really divisive.” Not just to the Muslim community, he said, “but to many other communities.” He said he was really concerned about what the next four years are going to look like.
“The letter was reported to the Davis police,” Mr. El-Nakhal said, “and ever since this letter became public, the Muslim community received an overwhelming support from faith leaders, political leaders, law enforcement leaders and the community at large.”
Hamza El-Nakhal indicated that across the country, however, Muslims have experienced a strong uptick in the number of crimes, incidents and hate speech directed against them for quite some time.
The FBI, he said, reported a 67 percent jump in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. The last year saw 257 bias crimes against Muslims, compared to 154 crimes in 2014.
Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said, “Words of hatred and terror such as this serve no rational or legitimate purpose.” He said that Davis is a community that celebrates its diversity, “we’re not just tolerant we embrace each other for who we each are.”
The community members, he said, “are aligning to stand up against hate and those who spread hate.” As a community, he said “we are coming together to protect each other against hateful words, messages, threats and violence. Hate is not a value that is welcome in Davis.”
Chief Pytel said that members of the Davis Police Department “serve with pride and we are proudly standing side-by-side with our community in spreading a message of inclusive. We also stand ready to protect those that are vulnerable.”
“We will turn the tide,” he said. “Those that are vulnerable now will become strong. We are surrounding ourselves with others that will stand strong next to them. They are partnering with the Davis Police Department to ensure that those that engage in hate are brought to justice.”
Davis Mayor Robb Davis said, “We are here today because of an act – written words – of hate. Indeed, they are words designed to sow fear and dread; to terrorize an entire community of people, our neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters … And what do we do with these words?
“Condemn them? Yes,” he said. “Reject them? Yes. But is that enough?”
He continued, “Someone has written of human speech (written or spoken): No one can tame the tongue (the word) – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We use words to bless and we use words to curse. From the same place comes blessings and curses.
“The words written to the Islamic Center of Davis and sent to many other such centers and mosques around California and the nation are a curse. They are a curse on people and it is not clear what we can do,” he said. “But I believe that the most effective way to counter the curse is with a blessing – words can do either and so we counter the hate with a blessing.”
After reciting a blessing, he added, “This is a blessing to counter the curse, to put it away, to reject its premise, to counter its bile. May those who wrote it find the grace to renounce its message and turn away from their rage, lest it destroy them. Maah salaam … Go in peace having received a blessing.”
Supervisor Don Saylor thanked DA Reisig and Sheriff Prieto for bringing this together “because it illustrates that we stand together in Davis and Yolo County.”
He said, “We are here, because – it’s not in spite of or because of someone’s faith or someone’s persuasion, or any aspect of our character – it’s because every person has a right to be who they are as a part of our country. The kind of hate that is carried in the message that was delivered to the Davis Islamic Center and to dozens of Mosques around the country – we don’t stand for it.
“We don’t stand for it in this community. We don’t stand for it in this county. We cannot stand for it in this country,” he said.
Supervisor Jim Provenza said, “Hate crime or hate speech is not just a threat to those it is directed against, as terrible as it is. It is a threat to all of us. A threat to Muslims today is a threat to Jewish people tomorrow, to Catholics. A threat to Hispanics today is a threat to African Americans tomorrow, to other ethnic groups the next day.
“Hate speech and hate crime are really a threat to freedom,” he continued. “They tell people because of who you are, you don’t have the same rights as everybody else.” It says, “you don’t have the right to be safe in the community.”
DA Jeff Reisig called this a disturbing trend and urged people to come forward so law enforcement can “vigorously investigate and prosecute these acts of hate.”
Jeff Reisig concluded that “the dialogue in the community has gotten pretty caustic,” which is why they have reached out to the community in hopes that, by addressing this hate incident, they can bring the community together to fight against hatred.
—David M. Greenwald reporting