San Diego, CA: “Red, black, yellow, brown and white, we need one another right now,” said Reverend Ikenna Kokayi, president of the United African American Ministerial Action Council, kicking off an evening of speakers before the 200 people crowded into the Ronald Reagan Center in El Cajon. After a series of hate-motivated incidents in San Diego’s East County, a coalition of faith and community leaders came together last week for its annual Hate Crimes Summit.
“We have gathered this day to look at the devastating effect of hate that is prevalent in our society. You and I must remain forever vigilant and wherever [hate] raises its ugly head we must be here to say, ‘No, not here.’”
In recent months, San Diego has seen an increase in hate crimes and hate-motivated behaviors, mostly committed by young people. Incidents have ranged from racist graffiti painted on the vehicle of an African American family to the violent attack of a young Lesbian woman.
The mother of another victim of hate violence spoke out at the summit. “Hate is unacceptable and hating someone because of the color of your skin is unacceptable,” said Denise Brown, whose African American son was beaten at a party after he says he objected to some individuals demanding that all Asians and Latinos leave the party. While a group of young white men punched, bit and beat him, they also screamed racial slurs. Despite dozens of witnesses at the party, his attackers have still not been identified. “They had 80 witnesses, but they say they don’t know any names. No one is being held accountable. My son, trying to be the peacemaker, has been changed for the rest of his life. He’ll never be the same,” Brown told our film crew.
“Even One is Too Many” was the theme of the second annual hate crime summit Oct. 1, 2009, organized by United for a Hate Free San Diego a faith-based coalition that formed in response to reports of discrimination and bias during the aftermath of the devastating fires that struck the county two years ago. That year, the FBI reported a 32 percent jump in reported hate crimes.
“It is a daunting future, if we don’t make some changes,” said California Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, one of the founders and current chair of the coalition. “And those changes start with each one of you seated here tonight. What we take away from this will not only make a difference in your own lives but in the lives of everyone in our community.”
James McElroy, civil rights attorney and board chairman of the Southern Poverty Law Center, delivered the summit’s key note address, contextualizing the growing number of hate groups and activities in the region and nationwide. According to the SPLC, there are 926 hate groups organized nationwide, and California leads the nation with 84 hate groups, with the largest concentration in Southern California. “What we’ve seen in the last couple years is sort of a perfect storm,” said McElroy, “With the election of our first African American president combined with a severe recession, and an increase in the patriot or militia movement, which is characterized first and foremost by a hatred of our government and also filled with racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.”
Later, a panel, including a retired educator and representatives from local law enforcement and the American Defamation League, responded to several hate crimes and hateful incidents in the area.
“Our goal is to provide education to people who may be aware of the problems with hate crimes, but may not make distinctions – what is motivating people, how wide spread is this problem, what can they do if they are aware this is happening, and how can they prevent it,” said Saldaña.
As the summit came to a close, coalition leaders urged the audience to sign a declaration against hate and commit to helping eliminate hate crimes in San Diego. “As you sign, you will say, ‘You declare that you will not be silent or tolerate any hate motivated behavior in our community,’” said Estela De Los Rios, Executive Director of the Center for Social Advocacy.
“We’re welcoming others to join with us, United for a Hate Free San Diego, and come up with their own ideas to make their schools, our communities safer,” added Saldana.