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Valley Perspective

Alliance Continues Its Task of Working to End Hate Crimes in Region

Fifth town hall meeting, to be held Thursday in North Hollywood, seeks to challenge attendees with the question "What can I do?"

February 25, 2001|AARON LEVINSON | Aaron Levinson is director of the Anti-Defamation League's Valley office and chairman of the San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance

The San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance has been working together for more than a year now. Over this time, the group's goals have remained unchanged: to increase hate crime reporting, develop a broad support network within the community for victims of hate acts, and prevent acts of intolerance through education and building respect for diversity.

The alliance's steering committee has grown to include the Anti-Defamation League, Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Unified School District Human Relations Education Commission, Cal State Northridge, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and California Assembly Speaker Robert M. Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks). All of these organizations and groups did good work prior to formation of the Hate Crimes Alliance, but what is unique in the Valley is the ongoing collaboration of these organizations on this specific issue.

Four town hall meetings were convened over the past year. The issues covered have been significant: a study of community resources in fighting hate crime, a look at where hate begins and why people hate, and a rally against this negative trend in our society.

Now we look forward to our fifth, and final, town hall meeting at which we hope to find solutions to the problem we have examined.

One question we hope will intrigue our town hall attendees is "What can I do?" which should not be confused with "What can we do?" We want individuals to take it upon themselves to help reduce acts that contribute to a climate of intolerance.

It is often said that the simple or obvious answer may be the most correct one. That seems to be so in this case. Residents of the San Fernando Valley, and Los Angeles County, ought to look to our common ground, to what unites us, as the first step toward a more tolerant community.

If we begin to get to know one another, perhaps our varying cultures, religions, races and customs will not seem as different. How many times have we heard the story, or told it ourselves, about not knowing our own next-door neighbors until the morning of Jan. 17, 1994, when the Northridge earthquake shook us out of bed and into our streets for safety? How many of us have spoken with these neighbors more than half a dozen times since that event?

Los Angeles, including the Valley, is a culture of individuals in their automobiles. We drive on the freeways through diverse neighborhoods, but we don't get out of our cars to visit these places. We read about town hall meetings that examine important issues, but it is always a struggle to draw more than a handful of people to attend these forums.

The closest thing to a melting pot we had used to be sporting events, but even this is changing.

We still have the opportunity to sit next to someone different from ourselves at Dodger Stadium, at least, but our city's newest sports and concert venue doesn't even allow us to enter the same doors if we paid different prices for our tickets.

While we usually charge ourselves with improving the community for the youth, in this instance, we may look to our own children to facilitate interaction between people of different backgrounds.

Not only do children interact more freely with people who are different from themselves than adults do, but they often have greater opportunity to do so at schools, on sports teams, at religious institutions and while playing on their own streets.

We, as parents and caregivers, ought to take a lesson and seize the opportunity to get to know the families of our children's friends, acquaintances and playmates.

By nature, some things in the community are response-oriented. We have police and fire departments solely to respond to incidents to ensure our safety. But our fire departments realized that by teaching about fire safety, we might have fewer of these disasters.

Similarly, our police departments reach out to the community to reduce crime and form Neighborhood Watch groups.

Instead of waiting to respond when hate and intolerance manifest themselves, shouldn't we try to reduce the opportunities for bigotry and stereotyping by forming our own individual alliances against hate?


The San Fernando Valley Hate Crimes Alliance will hold its fifth town hall meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Adat Ari El Synagogue, 12020 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) will be moderator of the discussion.

For information, call (818) 464-3339.

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