Guest column: Prosecuting hate crimes is our business

Over the past three years, my Office has prosecuted over 20 hate crime cases, which is both too many and too few.

It’s too much because every hate crime is an attack on someone for no other reason than who they are. No one in San Diego should feel targeted or harassed because of their disability, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or affiliation with any another protected class.

This is too little because we know that most hate crimes are never reported and therefore can never be prosecuted.

Victims of hate crimes are reluctant to come forward for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, fear of reprisal, and distrust of authorities.

As City Attorney, I implore anyone who has been victimized by a hate crime to report it to law enforcement. Hate crimes are rarely isolated. Offenders who get away with it once are likely to re-offend. As misdemeanor prosecutors, we know that stopping haters early can prevent more serious crimes later, including felonies.

When a case comes before my Office, we take it seriously. We work with victims to ensure the best outcomes for them. We listen and demand justice. We can help you.

A hate crime is defined as a crime against a person, group or property motivated by the actual or perceived protected social group of the victim. Examples include threats, both verbal or written; physical assault or attempted assault; and hateful graffiti, including swastikas and other offensive symbols.

We have pursued a wide variety of cases:

A recent case that has received a lot of publicity involves an Ocean Beach man who was accused of hitting and verbally assaulting a Latino SDG&E worker who was manning a roadblock, yelling at him to go back to his country and “speak English”.

Another ongoing case that will soon go to trial involves a man accused of verbally and physically abusing an autistic transgender person living in the same building. The perpetrator allegedly denigrated the victim by mockingly calling her a “freak” and a “weird” and referring to the victim as “her” even though her preferred pronouns are him and him.

In one particularly violent attack, a man brandished knives at four victims, threatening to stab them while declaring, “I hate Mexicans.”

Some authors attack several groups at once. A recent case involved a man accused of beating a worker at a Hillcrest cafe, using an anti-gay slur and then drawing a swastika on the restaurant window.

At least half a dozen lawsuits have involved people shouting the “N-word” at black victims, which constitutes a hate crime.

As heartbreaking and heartbreaking as these cases are, victims need to be assured that our office will always stand up to bullies and enemies. If you have been the victim of a hate crime, know that we are here to protect and help you.

Our office works with state and federal agencies to ensure that anyone who commits a hate crime is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

What to do if you are the victim of a hate crime:

If you have been assaulted, call 911 or go to a local hospital if you need immediate medical attention.

You can also report hate crimes to the San Diego Police Department by contacting the San Diego Police Department’s 24-hour number for non-emergency calls and general information at (619) 531-2000. Call (858) 484-3154 if you live in the 858 area code. Or you can file a crime report online at www.sandiego.gov/police/crimereports/startaccess.

You can also call the city attorney’s office at 619-236-6220.

For more information, please visit the City Attorney’s website, here: Say No to Hate | City Attorney’s Office | City of San Diego official site

Elliott is a San Diego City Attorney.

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