By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Let me start by giving some praise to Yolo Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven who did an excellent job of explaining, two weeks ago, hate crimes and the difference between a hate crime and a hate incident.
He noted, “It’s a very fine line often between what is a hate crime and what is a hate incident.”
From the DA’s standpoint, “A hate crime is a crime. You have to have a crime. And then on top of that, you have a biased motivation behind the crime.”
Raven added, “One of the things about hate crimes is they’re much different than other crimes. They’re message crimes. Hate crimes are not only meant to harm the individual that’s been physically or emotionally, victimized, but also to send a message to the whole community.”
Raven also clarified an important misconception – white people can be the victims of a hate crime. While most hate crimes are not directed toward white people – a sizable percentage, in some cases up to a quarter of prosecuted hate crimes, the victim is in fact white.
Raven clarified the law with respect to protected classes—disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
Raven explained, “I’ve had some people say that white males are not a protected class. Yes, they are. They are white and they are male. Doesn’t matter if some, if a certain class makes up the majority of that community. Everyone, every gender, every race, religion, they’re all protected classes.”
Nancy Appel from ADL further explained the distinction between a hate incident and a hate crime.
“The term hate incident is a term of art with a distinct meaning… it is distinct from a hate crime in that it is behavior or expression that is motivated by hate or bias by any of the characteristics that we reviewed. But the underlying activity itself does not constitute a crime. So it does not violate the penal code and therefore no law enforcement… can make an arrest or press any charges.”
She added that “this most often takes the form of speech, which is very broadly protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.”
“There is no law per se, against hate,” Appel explained. “So you can be a bigot, you can be a hateful person, you can harbor these thoughts, and in many ways you can express these thoughts.”
This was really important because over the years, there have been a ton of misconceptions over the law with respect to hate crimes and also the difference between a hate crime and a hate incident.
Where I think the conversation hosted by the DA fell short is the next portion.
Appel called the rise of hate crime, especially against the Jewish community, “meteoric.”
“It’s almost unprecedented,” Appel said. “We are seeing numbers at record levels, going back to the year or so after 9/11.”
There are two main problems that I see: why is there a rise in hate crimes and hate incidents and what can we do about it.
In August, for instance, there was a banner unfurled over Highway 113 – similar to banner drops elsewhere. The banner appeared to be associated with Holocaust denial and other right wing extremist groups.
These are groups that have been empowered by former President Donald Trump and his continued refusal to call them out.
This fall we also saw a rise in the number of incidents where groups like the Proud Boys have come to public meetings and counter-demonstrated at local events.
A right group, Turning Point USA came to speak at UC Davis, that brought out about 100 protesters and they were met with members of the Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys of course were not present on the local stage until relatively recently. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, while they “adamantly deny any connection to the racist “alt-right,”” their actions “belie their disavowals of bigotry.”
Notes the SPLC: “Rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric. Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
The mainstream national media has of course focused on Ye (aka Kanye West) and white supremacist leader Nicholas Fuentes who recently dined with Former President Donald Trump. But on a local level, many critics believe that the role of the alt-right locally in inciting these incidents has been largely ignored by local media.
A second problem is: what are we going to do about it?
The DA of course can prosecute hate crimes.
Even when it is a hate crime that can be difficult as Raven noted, “in order for the DA to prosecute and to have a path towards successful prosecution and to ethically charge the case, as I mentioned, we have to be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to charge it.”
But much of this is not criminal conduct. As Nancy Appel put it, “it’s lawful but awful.” She explained, “It’s terrible speech, but it is nonetheless not punishable by our laws.”
“Just because the activity might not be unlawful or criminal does not mean it does not still cause a tremendous amount of emotional harm to the targets of that speech, and that it is not still incumbent upon our community leaders, and law enforcement to the extent possible, to speak out against it,” Appel said.
That’s really the problem. While it’s important to speak out against hate incidents and UC Davis, the City Council and law enforcement have been quick to do so.
The problem is that the rise of hate crimes and such incidents locally indicates that the people involved feel empowered by the national stage and that’s the tricky thing, but unfortunately this was not discussed nearly enough by either the ADL or the DA’s office at the townhall.
Until we can find an effective way to deal with that environment – this problem is only going to get worse.