‘This is not who we are’: government and religious leaders call for an end to hate speech

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After a week in which anti-Semitic and homophobic graffiti was uncovered in two schools in Chula Vista and racist and offensive comments were directed to county officials, the government and religious leaders urged the public on Thursday not to let hate speech masquerading as freedom of expression and denouncing it unequivocally. .

Chula Vista board member Steve Padilla led the message from the steps of his alma mater, Bonita Vista High School, as the students made their way to their next class. He was joined by Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, County Supervisor Nora Vargas, officials from Sweetwater Union High School, and representatives from local synagogues and the LGBTQ community.

“I grew up in this community and the message I have for all of you, and I know many other speakers will emphasize this: this is not who we are,” said Padilla. “If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we must come together as a community every time. “

The press conference comes after authorities reported on Tuesday that anti-Semitic and homophobic messages were spray painted on the walls and doors of high schools and colleges in Bonita Vista, likely on Halloween night. A photo shared by police showed a door painted with a teal swastika, the word “Jews” crossed out with an X and a reference to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

On Thursday, “no suspects were identified,” Chula Vista police spokesman Lt. Dan Peak said in an email, adding that those involved “could be minors from the area” . The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

Sweetwater Union High School Board Chairman Nicholas Segura said the school had “no tolerance for discrimination and hatred and we strongly reject these messages.”

Hate crimes in San Diego County are on the rise. So far this year, the district attorney’s office has filed 59 hate crimes cases, Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh said. This figure exceeds the total number of 21 such cases filed last year. Over the past five years in Chula Vista, 2019 has seen the highest number of reported cases with 11 in total. Last year, five were reported and one this year, according to police department data through May 2021.

Attacks also targeted county leaders earlier this week at a supervisory board meeting. For months, dozens of people berated the board for its handling of the pandemic, especially around COVID-19 vaccines. Statements made on Tuesday, however, prompted Vargas to intervene after one of the speakers hurled a racial insult against the senior public health official, wished some of the supervisors would die or be killed, and made humiliating comments. on Vargas.

“It’s been a really, really tough time to hear the hate and see these people come over there and just take the mic and do whatever they do and hide behind such a big part of who we’re in. as a democracy, which is freedom of speech, ”Vargas said Thursday.

Salas, who applauded Vargas for speaking out against the statements, urged others to do the same.

“I think it’s really incumbent on all of us as individuals, all of us as elected officials, that every time we hear hate speech, every time we hear stereotypes, we put it individually. a term, just as Supervisor Vargas had done two nights before. ,” she said.

“We cannot hide hate speech under free speech,” Vargas added.

While change begins at home and much can be done between task forces and committees, more can be done together, officials and religious leaders said.

Padilla suggested organizing a regional symposium on hate and conflict to tackle “root causes”.

“I think we need to have a clearinghouse for the best minds of the country, state and region in several sectors. So much work is being done today in this area, but it is being done in silos, ”he said, adding that he“ will reach out to people from all over the community and think about this concept and how we can defend it ”.

There was also a message for those behind the graffiti in the schools.

“For those who wrote these messages, we also say to you, allow us to meet you and turn this hate into love. There is no way through anger in this world, through messages of hate in this world other than the way of conversation and radical love, ”said Rabbi Devorah Marcus of Temple Emanu. El.

Along with those who spoke in high school, Doris Bittar, organizer of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Southern California, said in a telephone interview Thursday that people should “react strongly” against hatred. His organization has asked county supervisor Joel Anderson to withdraw a statement he made last month saying the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which helps Afghan refugees, is a terrorist organization. CAIR is not on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

Bittar noted that when immigrants, like the dozens of Afghan families who have recently relocated to San Diego, hear racist slurs or other forms of hatred, “the fear is palpable.”

“As soon as Muslims, Afghans, Arabs hear this, fear arises. Fear spreads faster than love or a sense of security, ”she said. “I think we shouldn’t let people get away with this. It must sting. Enough already. “


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