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The Crimes That Won't Go Away

July 04, 1998

The recent events in Jasper, Texas, where a black man was allegedly tied to the back of a truck and dragged to his death by three men with ties to white supremacist groups, has put the spotlight on hate crimes. In Southern California, reported hate crimes increased in 1997, suggesting growing tension, especially in neighborhoods where change is greatest. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission identified several so-called hate crime clusters, including Hollywood, Long Beach, Van Nuys and Lancaster. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with a community activist, a sheriff's official and a hate crime victim about the possible reasons for and solutions to this growing trend.

LT. TOM PIGOTT

Commander of the detective bureau at the Lancaster Sheriff's Station

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In the Antelope Valley, it's predominantly whites committing crimes against blacks.

One of our biggest problems has been the skinhead groups like the Nazi Low Riders. The cases we have had with them have been serious enough that the individuals have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Right now, most of the hard-core members are either in prison or have left town.

Compared to other crimes, these crimes make up a small percentage of the overall criminal activity.

The Antelope Valley is going through demographic changes. Hate crimes seem to manifest in a community when it is going through demographic changes. When different races come together, becoming a viable component of a community, that's when hate crimes start to materialize. For decades, it was a predominantly white, middle-class area but now we have a good balance establishing itself up here.

We recommend that people simply not get involved in any type of confrontation. Whatever it may be, you may be right, but it's not worth the aggravation and heartache this confrontation can cause.

ERMA THOMPSON

Hate crime victim, Pomona

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I received several handwritten hate messages and phone calls at my home last year. The letters were somehow delivered directly to my desk at work. The notes were really vicious and graphic. They had KKK written on them with drawings of hooded people holding knives. They threatened to kill me and my family and claimed to having killed two blacks.

When I got the first letter, I felt hurt but I tried not to let it bother me. I figured they were just notes and that I was safe. When I received the second letter with threats about blowing up the building where I worked and signed by someone supposedly from the KKK, it really hit me. This was real, it wasn't a joke. The police bomb squad cleared the building to check for bombs but even when they let everyone back in, I was terrified. I started having panic attacks. I went home that day in tears.

I received two phone calls at home. I stayed awake at night because I was afraid that someone would attack us in my home. Even now I am nervous and afraid to leave my home unless I really have to. I have been in therapy to learn to cope and control the anxiety and hostility I now live with.

All the stress eventually caused me to go on disability. As a teacher I am expected to teach but after this, I couldn't talk, I couldn't think straight. I was extremely fearful that I was putting myself there as a target and in turn, putting the students in danger.

My daughters have also been affected. My youngest daughter didn't want to go to school because she wanted to watch over me, afraid she'd come home and find me dead. My other daughter feels she is being punished for being black. I have never been an angry person before but once I became a victim because of my race, that all changed. I can't understand why someone would do something like this.

DARREN PARKER

Chairman, Antelope Valley Human Relations Hate Crime Task Force

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For the most part, the hate crimes we're experiencing have changed from violent assaults to graffiti. In Lancaster for instance, at least 50% of the crimes reported were graffiti. Because of education and increasing public awareness, things are changing.

We are starting our second billboard campaign. We have a 24-hour hotline where the public can call anonymously. There will be an art contest where children will draw pictures of how they envision the world without hate. We will use some of this art as part of our billboard campaign. We have participated with the state Department of Education, where educators conducted a hate crime summit.

The community can do a lot to help. People can volunteer to work our hotline. The sheriff's office has ongoing diversity training on how to deal with hate crimes.

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