Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The hate bubbles up

-- by Dave

If you want to get a good look at the corrosive power of bias crimes within a community, a prime example recently occurred in San Bernardino, where the increasing presence of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists has been noted in recent years:
A Calimesa man will stand trial on a hate crime charge in addition to murder and attempted murder counts, a judge ruled Monday.

Christopher Fulmer, 30, will be tried in the fatal Dec. 4 shooting of Joshua Morales, also 30, of Bermuda Dunes, and the wounding of a second man during a confrontation on a Yucaipa street, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville decided.

Fulmer's attorney, James Gass, argued that it was not a hate crime and said his client was defending others.

Yeah, right:
On Friday, when Fulmer's preliminary hearing began, Robert Alexander, a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department homicide detective, testified that Gilbert Aguilar had told him that he was walking alone to a friend's house between 4 and 5 p.m. Dec. 4 when four white men confronted him at California Street and Avenue B.

According to a witness, the men used a racial slur when they saw Aguilar, who later identified one of the men as Fulmer. After exchanging words, Aguilar and the four men parted ways.

On Monday, sheriff's Detective Greg Myler said the four men went to a park where, according to witnesses, they were upset because Aguilar had not backed down, which they thought he should because he's Hispanic. They talked about wanting to beat him up and to teach him a lesson, Myler said. Witnesses described Fulmer as the leader, Myler testified.

Myler said a friend of Fulmer's who was at the park and involved in the confrontation told him they are part of a group that tries to start fights with Hispanics and blacks by making derogatory comments. The only reason the group confronted Aguilar was because he's Hispanic, Myler said, recounting the interview.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Detienne presented a group photo that shows Fulmer and others making a Nazi salute. Fulmer has a swastika tattooed on his chest.

Detienne argued Monday that Aguilar was targeted because he is Hispanic.

As we've been reporting, violent bias crimes against Latinos are rapidly increasing, doubtlessly fueled in large part by the ugly rhetoric of demonization used by both anti-immigrant activists and their media mouthpieces -- not to mention leading right-wing politicians.

Most of the work in dealing with these crimes is going to occur on the local level -- and fortunately, San Bernardino's police responded properly and professionally in dealing with this incident. But there are going to be many more of these coming down the pike, as evidenced by the increasing boldness of the overt white supremacists. Just wait until that prison population of Aryan Brotherhood members starts hitting the streets over the next few years.

It's important to remember that last year's federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- which met an untimely death at the hands of spineless Democrats -- was in fact predicated on enhancing the ability of local law enforcement to handle the extra burden that dealing with bias crimes entails.

And as I said at the time:
Let's face it: This legislation was tagged as a "gay issue" -- mainly because the opposition to it arose almost wholly from the inclusion of sexual preference as a category of bias, fueled by the homophobes of the religious right. And gay-rights groups were certainly in the forefront of pushing the bill. However, other progressives, including those directly affected by hate crimes, neglected to join in the fight to any notable extent. Where were the civil-rights groups, the immigrant-rights groups, the labor unions?

How was it possible, for instance, for thousands of African Americans to march on the Justice Department and demand hate-crimes enforcement, as they did last month, and have no one mention the pending hate-crimes law?

After all, the bill specifically addresses the very issue that lies at the heart of the "Jena 6" controversy -- namely, the failures of law enforcement to adequately enforce these laws. The legislation, as I've noted previously, is carefully written to emphasize helping local law enforcement do its job -- provide training, help identify bias crimes, provide funds for strapped prosecutors -- and it specifically defers to local jurisdictions. At the same time it makes it possible for federal authorities to move in when local law enforcement fails to do so, particularly in any of the seven states that have no bias-crime law.

Similarly, it's been hard to find much in the way of serious support for the Shepard bill from Latinos and immigrant-rights organizations. There have been exceptions: The Latino Coalition made an effort to support the bill, and Latino bloggers like Xicanopwr chimed in as well. Nonetheless, the support was surprisingly muted and not particularly broad, in spite of the fact that Latino immigrants have been among the chief victims of the recent spike in hate-crimes nationally reported by the FBI.

One has to hope that in the coming year, when this legislation comes up again, those Latino and African American civil-rights advocates will be linking arms with their allies in the GLBT community to get the job done. Because the cops in places like San Bernardino are going to need all the help they can get.

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