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Valley Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON HATE CRIMES

Easing Tensions With Education

Training and resources are readily available to help communities combat bias and discrimination.

August 25, 1996|RONI SUSAN BLAU | Roni Susan Blau is director of the San Fernando Valley office of the Anti-Defamation League

Hate graffiti is scrawled on the walls of a synagogue. A neighborhood church is vandalized. An Armenian youth scout headquarters is covered with graffiti. These events happened not decades ago but over the last several years in Glendale. It became clear that the community had no choice but to respond.

Now in its second year, a citywide task force comprising elected officials and community and religious leaders is beginning to look for answers. It will take time, but the Glendale Community Relations Coalition has taken an important first step in acknowledging that a problem exists and in searching for resources to support and promote solutions.

Recent events in the Antelope Valley have demanded a similar approach. A group of law enforcement agencies, local officials and community leaders have been meeting for more than a year and are in the process of setting up a special hotline for victims of hate crimes.

However, responding to hate crimes is not enough. Rising levels of violence dictate that the community send an unmistakable message that acts of bigotry will never be tolerated. Otherwise, the perpetrator will assume that the actions are acceptable.

A variety of hate-crime training and diversity awareness programs are available for community leaders to employ in a comprehensive response to racial tensions. In addition to implementing measures recommended in the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission's report on skinheads, the community needs to take advantage of the expertise of human relations organizations that have developed training and resources dedicated to fighting racial tensions.

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The Anti-Defamation League, for example, has conducted numerous conferences for more than a decade for law enforcement agencies, school districts and community organizations across the country addressing the issue of hate crime and promoting effective strategies to combat bias and discrimination.

Victims of hate crimes suffer deep emotional injuries heightened by feelings of fear, terror and degradation. ADL hate-crime programs assist law enforcement in responding to the traumatic impact of, for instance, the vandalism of a church, racial slurs or prejudice-driven attacks on defenseless victims. Officers are taught how their actions can be a vital demonstration of caring and concern.

In addition, educators and students often find themselves on the front lines in the fight against racism.

A decade ago, the Anti-Defamation League developed its "A World of Difference" program aimed at training hundreds of thousands of teachers and instilling a capacity for tolerance and diversity in their students across the nation. Trained facilitators help create a nonthreatening environment that dispels stereotypes and fosters greater understanding among participants.

The Antelope Valley has indeed experienced a demographic upheaval in the last 10 years. These sorts of shifts are often accompanied by increasing racial and ethnic tensions which, if left unattended, can quickly escalate into the violence experienced recently.

It is always easier to deny a problem than to wrestle with trying to solve it. But it is too late for delaying tactics; it's time, instead, for long-term solutions. The new millennium will bring an increasingly diverse society, and no one can afford to be left behind.

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