Harassment of family leads to altercation in front of Elmwood Cafe

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A family was harassed in front of Elmwood Cafe on Saturday, leading to an altercation intervened by a Street Spirit vendor who was subsequently struck in the face, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

The assailant approached Kristina Hill, a UC Berkeley associate professor of landscape architecture & environmental planning and urban design, and her wife and daughter while they were waiting in line, Hill said.

“It was the scariest, in-your-face-moment in my 12 years of being harassed on the street,” Hill said. “It does kind of bring up a PTSD feeling that I am not safe when I am walking on the street. It’s not the only time it has happened in Berkeley.”

Berkeley was recently found to have the fifth-highest hate crime rate in California in cities that have a population of more than 50,000, according to a 2016 Hate Crime Statistics report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Hill said the man called her and her wife “lesbian bitches” during a long ramble and got within a foot of Hill, who then asked for personal space and tried to calm the man down.

At that moment, a vendor for the Street Spirit, a newspaper that focuses on homeless issues, stepped in and stood up from his vending spot on the corner of College Avenue and Russell Street, according to Hill. When the vendor asked the man to calm down and leave, the man hit the vendor in the face and fled.

According to Kara Hammond, general manager of Elmwood Cafe, the incident occurred during a busy time at the restaurant.

Hill said she was disappointed that no one besides the vendor stepped in to de-escalate the situation or to ask her family if they were alright afterwards. Elmwood Cafe gave the vendor a free hot chocolate, and Hill’s wife offered to buy him a meal out of gratitude.

A gay rights activist since the 1980s, Hill said she moved from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Berkeley five years ago with her family in part to escape the lack of acceptance she perceived in Virginia.

“I was self-editing (in Charlottesville). I was not holding hands with my wife there, everybody was staring, everybody was a little taken aback that there were gay people there,” Hill said.

According to Hill, the schools and parents in the Berkeley community have accepted her lifestyle, but she said there is more “street craziness” here that can potentially lead to hate crimes.

Hill said she is often seen as an easy target of homophobic slurs, and she added that every couple of months she experiences a hateful comment on the street in Berkeley.

“I want people to remember that people have to be ready when someone is harassed and to show solidarity,” Hill said. “I hope people will (intervene to stop hate crimes).”

The Daily Californian has partnered with ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project to collect incidents of hate crimes in Berkeley. If you’ve been a victim of a hate crime or bias-related incident, please fill out our form here.

Contact Jack Austin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JackAustinDC.