David Chiu’s personal background made him an ideal partner for a hate crimes-related bill authored by fellow Assembly member Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), vice chair of the California Jewish Legislative Caucus. Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco, describes it this way: “I was raised by a Protestant mother and Buddhist father, and schooled by high school priests and four Jewish college roommates.”
It is his diverse upbringing, coupled with the recent rise in hate crimes against the Jewish community and his own Asian-Pacific Islander community, that led Chiu to co-introduce the proposed legislation with Gabriel and two others.
Chiu said he and Gabriel “talk frequently about issues that impact our respective communities. Hate crimes are, unfortunately, high on that list.”
If signed into law, AB 2236 will provide comprehensive training to law enforcement officers about hate crime trends, enforcement practices and identifying and tracking such crimes more effectively. Officers will be required to enroll in a refresher course every five years. The bill has the support of numerous Jewish organizations, as well as a diverse coalition that includes members of the Asian-Pacific Islander, LGBTQ, Sikh, Hindu, women’s rights and disability rights communities.
Gabriel, who serves as assistant majority whip, introduced the bill as follow-up to AB 1548, which was signed into law in 2019 and established the California Nonprofit Security Grant Program. The program recently awarded $15 million in a second round of funding to protect houses of worship, schools, community centers and other vulnerable institutions across the state that are at risk for hate-motivated violence. Gabriel notes that with 500 applicants, the demand far exceeded the funding.
“AB 2236 is a different approach, but getting to the same concern, which is hate-motivated violence,” he said.
The bill is also in response to a 2018 state audit finding that law enforcement agencies routinely failed to report and respond to hate crimes, or improperly classified them, making them impossible to prosecute.
“What we’re doing is based on a recommendation by the state auditor to improve the response of what is probably significant underreporting of hate,” Gabriel said. “The Department of Justice estimates that hates crimes are between 24 and 28 percent more frequent than reported.”
Chiu, a civil rights attorney and former prosecutor, added, “We have to educate police officers about what is convictable and prosecutable. It is more important than ever to pass this bill to make sure hate crimes don’t go unreported.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2019, a 12 percent increase from 2018 and the highest number of incidents since the ADL began collecting data in 1979. California had the third-highest number of incidents with 330 behind New York (430) and New Jersey (345). Recent recorded incidents in the Bay Area include online death threats in Concord; swastikas, racist and homophobic graffiti on the Peninsula; and, in Marin County, posters claiming that Jews masterminded the 9/11 attacks.
For Jewish Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), the Concord case hit home. Ross Farca, the 24-year-old accused of making the threats, is facing felony counts in Contra Costa County on weapons charges and making criminal threats. Bauer Kahan, a Bay Area native and a co-author of AB 2236, began receiving calls at her office after the suspect was released on bail in June 2019.
“When we see incidents like that, permission has been given to speak in hateful ways,” she told J. “The ADL did a presentation to the Jewish caucus where they spoke about the lack of data and reporting. We need that information to know what’s going on. It’s critical for law enforcement to know what they are seeing.”
All three legislators interviewed are disturbed by the rise of hate crimes in recent years and laid responsibility at the feet of the current presidential administration.
“It was a scary and eye-opening moment in the [Jewish] caucus to see what happened in Charlottesville [in 2017], with people chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us’ and people in positions of power failing to condemn it,” Gabriel said. Two years later, the Chabad of Poway shooting “crystallized for my legislative colleagues how real it is for folks in the community.”
And with Covid-19, some marginalized communities are feeling more vulnerable. Noting that the staggering unemployment due to the pandemic has created fertile ground for increased hate, Gabriel noted that “as history has taught us, hate and bigotry increase in times of economic uncertainty.”
Referring to Jewish values that demand standing up against hate for everyone, Bauer-Kahan mentioned participating in a recent forum with Chiu to highlight the experiences of the Asian-Pacific Islander community, including references to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”
Citing 1,700 hate incidents against his community in just six weeks, Chiu said, “As far along as we think we have come, more work needs to happen.”
Adds Gabriel, “We would love nothing more than to wake up tomorrow and live in a different world, but until then, our caucus and our community will continue to work on this in the coming years, because a fundamental aspect of government is to protect our communities.”