East Bay communities have been resoundingly clear: racist, anti-semitic, homophobic and other hate motivated acts are not welcome. It’s heartening to see that same message growing across the country –from last week’s Boston rally to the CEOs who resigned from President Trump’s commissions.
Self-identified white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups have characterized their increasing displays of aggressive and violent hate-fueled conduct as expressions of free speech. Nonsense. Here in Berkeley, we know that our tradition of honoring and defending free speech is not a license to act violently or invoke violence, especially when that violence is hate motivated.
Last week, I introduced Senate Bill 630 to fix a loophole that has allowed some hate-motivated acts to escape the harsher penalty of being charged as hate crimes. SB 630 strengthens California’s hate crime law so it can be applied to individuals who commit a crime against someone acting in support of or in defense of those currently protected by our hate crime law.
The driver of the car that plowed into the crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing Heather Heyer and wounding dozens more, is a prime example. So far, that driver has not been charged with a hate crime because Heather Heyer was, as far as we know, not LGBTQ+, Black, Jewish or another identity that meets the legal definition of those protected by hate crime laws.
Nevertheless, Heyer and the others injured that day were all victims of a hate-fueled act. SB 630 addresses this ambiguity to ensure that those who commit a hate act, regardless of the status of the victim, can be prosecuted appropriately.
California’s current law, like most other states’ hate crime statutes, enables law enforcement to, for example, use a hate crime charge against white nationalists who target people of color. My bill will extend that same protection to allies who stand in solidarity with a targeted group, like Heather Heyer, who was standing against white nationalists.
Events in which hateful individuals have harmed legally protected groups and their allies through violence, vandalism, and other horrible acts are on the rise in communities across the country. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley reported an increase in calls made to her office’s hate crime hotline. One example is the Aug. 17 assault on Temple Israel in Alameda that was vandalized by a rock thrower who aimed specifically at windows displaying Jewish symbols. With such incidents growing, California’s Hate Crime Law, originally instituted in 1968, needs to be updated so that the law’s intention – to protect those targeted and harmed by hatred – continues to be met.
I’ve also introduced two resolutions, SJR 13 and SR 55, modeled after action taken by the Illinois State legislature. Specifically, SJR 13 and SR 55 denounce white nationalist and neo-Nazi acts of violence and urge local, state and federal law enforcement to use all legal options, including those relating to terrorism and hate crimes, to prosecute such crimes.
I look forward to the day when legislative actions like SB 630, SJR 13, and SR 55 are no longer needed. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us in 1963, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that.” Let us work together to achieve that future.
State Senator Nancy Skinner represents District 9, which includes Berkeley. She previously served in the State Assembly from 2008-2014 and on the Berkeley City Council from 1984-1992.