Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, in his seminal work, “Man’s Search of Meaning,” wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one’s own way.”
In the face of hate crimes, we as a community must choose our way. Do we ignore it, or condemn it?
In April 2007, vandals broke into the Scotts Valley High School gymnasium and defaced it with swastikas and racial epithets. This crime occurred shortly after the discovery on campus of “white pride” leaflets containing that polarizing emblem of hate, the Nazi swastika. Students, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders spoke out at an assembly. The message was one of tolerance and steadfast condemnation of hate crimes.
Unfortunately, the voices of hate remain. A few months ago, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies contacted two men distributing ku klux klan leaflets. In July, vandals defaced our local skate park with racist graffiti and swastikas.
We have embarked on another school year, and it is appropriate to address hate crime again. In California, you can be a victim of a hate crime if you have been targeted because of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or even association with a person or group with one or more of these real or perceived characteristics.
According to the California Attorney General’s Office, a hate crime is a criminal act or attempted act committed against a victim or property because the victim is, or is perceived to be, a member of a protected class, and a victim can include an entity or group. It is important to differentiate between hate crimes and hate incidents.
A hate incident is an action or behavior that is motivated by hate, but is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Examples of hate incidents can include name calling, epithets, distribution of material in public places, and the display of offensive hate-motivated material on one’s private property.
If this type of behavior escalates to threats being made or carried out against a person or property, then it would be classified as a hate crime.
Schools are unique environments, however, and their policies forbid distributing offensive materials, making offensive remarks, bullying, etc.
The Anti-Defamation League notes that a student has the right to learn in an environment free from harassment and discrimination based on race, religion, color, gender, national origin, disability or sexual orientation. Students should educate themselves on their school policies and be able to report any hate-related incidents to a teacher, administrator, parent or trusted adult.
The Scotts Valley Police Department also stands ready to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. We encourage community members to learn more by consulting the Department of Justice and Anti-Defamation League Web sites.
As Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
Truly, if we consult “the better angels of our nature,” we will foster a community that stands united against the ugliness of hate crime.
John P. Weiss has been a Scotts Valley police officer since 1990.