A stranger approaches and yells racial or anti-gay epithets in your face; someone spray paints a neighbor's car with swastikas; a man punches a person and threatens them because they are gay; someone tells an Asian couple or a Muslim woman to go back to their country. What constitutes a hate crime and how should one report it to the authorities? Will anyone even care?
The city of Palo Alto is hosting an open discussion titled "CommUNITY Together: Recognizing and Reporting Hate Crimes," which will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. on Zoom to help inform the public about hate crimes and how the city and Santa Clara County prosecutors are tackling the issue. The discussion will address hate crimes and how they are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted, according to a city press release.
The event will be moderated by the Rev. Kaloma Smith, chair of the city's Human Relations Commission. The Palo Alto Police Department, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and other community groups will make presentations.
Officials also will discuss the city’s ongoing work surrounding race and equity. The Human Relations Commission made race and equity a top priority after dozens of hate incidents and crimes were reported in the city, ranging from stealing Black Lives Matter signs to physical attacks in recent years.
Smith, who with other commissioners brought the issue to the forefront, said he is happy to see the city has included the police and District Attorney's Office at the discussion. Their presentations would help people to understand one of the hardest points about hate crimes and hate incidents: the dividing line between First Amendment free speech rights and when there's been a crime.
City leaders, the human relations commissioners, police and prosecutors hope Wednesday's discussion will increase community awareness, Smith said.
"This meeting will allow people to have the confidence that if something happens they can report it. One thing with hate incidents and hate crimes is that people don't report them," he said. But reporting these crimes and incidents makes a difference. In San Francisco, for example, charges are being brought in a hate crime case because multiple people reported the crimes, he noted.
"It's easier to convict," if many people have had the same experience by the same offender, he said.
To register for the Zoom meeting, visit tinyurl.com/wmav9ddn.
An informative blog post from the city, "Steps the Community Can Take to Help Stop Hate Crimes,” can be found at medium.com/paloaltoconnect.
"The City of Palo Alto strongly denounces hate crimes of all kinds, and encourages members of our community to promptly report these incidents by calling our 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413, or 9-1-1 if it is an emergency," the city said in a statement.