(Nov. 15, 2006) -- A LB City Hall official has told LB's Human Relations Commission that the televised 1992 attack on truck driver Reginald Denny at the Florence/Normandie flash point of the L.A. riots wouldn't legally be considered a hate crime...and in offering her view on when prosecutors generally file hate crime charges defined hate crime more narrowly than its definition in the CA Penal Code.
In a November 9 presentation to LB's Human Relations Commission in which she discussed the Halloween night beating of three women in Bixby Knolls, Anitra Dempsey, who oversees city management's "Human Dignity Program" and serves as City Hall's "Human Dignity Officer," stated: "A hate crime is a criminal act motivated solely for bias. If anything happened before the language was shared, it may not be a hate crime."
But CA Penal Code section 422.55 defines a hate crime as "a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics..." (emphasis added).
Human Relations Chair Morgan subsequently read the statute aloud but Ms. Dempsey continued...and speaking in general [not on the specifics of Bixby Knolls case] on when hate crime are usually brought, Ms. Dempsey said:
[If] there is a rational explanation for why something happened, then they [prosecutors] will side on the defendant's side. So if, for example, the defendants are saying 'they started it' and the victims are saying 'no we didn't' and there's no independent way of doing it, and if there are facts it's got to be more than just that, but if there are other facts that may support that, then you cannot legally file hate crime charges."
She went on:
"I had a call today where someone asked me about Reginald Denny [1992, L.A. Florence/Normandy], wasn't that a hate crime?...[M]y short answer is that we had a male victim at that time and everyone remembered that it was the image of the riots. But my memory is that everyone who went into that intersection risked being pulled out and injured. Several people were beat up that day. He was pulled out and it was captured as the symbol. And so the group didn't say 'we're attacking white people and oh look there he is,' he just didn't get away quickly, and the media showed that. So my answer, not remembering any other facts, I didn't look it up, is that no, that would not be a hate crime because the suspects attacked everybody that was there."
LBReport.com posts an extended transcript excerpt below prepared by us from the City Clerk's office audio tape of the Human Relations Committee meeting.
Ms. Dempsey's presentation to the Mayor-chosen, Council-approved Human Relations Commission came at its regular monthly meeting, the first since the Halloween night (Oct. 31) beating of three women in Bixby Knolls. The L.A. County District Attorney's office has filed three serious felony charges against each of several juvenile defendants (ten as of Nov. 9, twelve to date) for their alleged involvement in the beatings...but has not to date added hate crime charges. The case remains under investigation and LBPD says additional suspects remain outstanding.
The Human Relations Commission didn't agendize the Bixby Knolls beatings for separate discussion at its Nov. 9 meeting, instead receiving a regularly scheduled monthly report from Ms. Dempsey in which she discussed the beatings that inflicted severe injuries on the three women (two age 19, one age 21).
A Black male whose identity has been withheld by LBPD effectively stopped the beatings by intervening and coming to the assistance of the women, who are White. The juvenile alleged assailants are Black.
LBReport.com posts salient portions of the Human Relations Commission testimony Ms. Dempsey and ensuing colloquy. Our transcript is unofficial; ellipses indicate deletions; bracketed content is by us for clarity.
Ms. Dempsey: ...Understand it would probably not do justice to try to make this a short story because it's ever-evolving, but some of the facts, and I'll share this with you guys as well, that on Halloween night, three girls were trick or treating and visiting a "haunted house" in the Bixby Knolls area, and what we know is that something awful happened.
We know that the end result is that the girls were involved in a fight and subsequently sustained various degrees of injury. One of the young ladies, as was reported in the paper [Press-Telegram] has severe facial injuries, including twelve fractures to her face. Her future vision is questionable. She shared the other day that she will likely have required surgery, and in fact today was meeting with the surgeon to determine that [if] she'll have to have her nose rebroken, it was broken during the injury, and various degrees of injury.
It was reported in the Press Telegram that the motivation for the crime was hate and that a group of African-Americans, both male and female, yelled derogatory racial slurs at the girls prior to the physical attack.
[Press-Telegram articles are distributed]...
Undertstandably, many people were very concerned about what happened, and concerned would be an understatement. I think as a community we were just hurt that such a degree of violence would occur. And I've heard that, you know, from every level of city down, the Mayor has been very interested in what's going on and how we were responding. Councilwoman Rae Gabelich has been, I don't know if she's gotten any sleep yet, because she's been very involved with the families and with the community, and a lot of people have physically polarized around this issue to make sure that we're applying the appropriate resources to help everyone.
Not surprisingly, the community is beginning to polarize on one side or the other. The article in the Press-Telegram has been sent across the nation and has been linked to hate groups, white supremacist groups, and people have responded with some very nasty comments about their perception of Long Beach, about their perception of African-Americans specifically, about their perception of minorities in general...
The good news is that this is what Human Dignity [City Hall's "Human Dignity Program"] was designed for. So I share that with everyone that Long Beach is in a better position than many cities, I dare say any city, to deal with this. We've been extremely busy...
We're communicating with the family. We had the opportunity, Rene, Amber, myself, to sit with the Councilwoman [inaudible] and the families to one, hear their stories, and begin the process of what we do as a response team to support them.
One of the first things we do is to express regret that they were the victims of trauma, and we do that across the board. We encourage them to pace themselves in a process that's going to be very crazy for them. And that includes what their expectations [are] regarding what should happen.
We've dealt with cases in the past where people have well-intended friends and family who may have taken a criminal justice course 101 and therefore are experts in what will happen. And people rely upon that and become frustrated when it doesn't happen that way. Everything from how much time they speculate the suspects should get, to the various charges that should be filed.
You guys should know, and this is important, that ten suspects were arrested, nine girls, one boy, all juveniles, ages 12 through 17, and were each charged with three felony charges. The charge was assault with the intent to create great bodily injury.
The family was concerned, and remains concerned, as to whether or not hate crime charges would be filed. Their question was why weren't they filed initially and would they be filed? The short answer, without knowing any specifics, is that the process is very fluid. The law differs for juveniles than it does for adults. If an adult is in custody, law enforcement has 48 hours to file; if it's a juvenile, it's 24 hours.
They needed to file what they could prove basically. So when you file you don't have a chance to kind of grab a [inaudible]. You have to file the things where you have evidence to support the elements of that crime.
The District Attorney, and police are still investigating the case, so that there hasn't been a period put behind what happened.
I don't know the facts of the case that would say whether or not hate crimes specifically will be filed. I know that it is being spread throughout the community that because the hate crime charges haven't been filed, it's an example of injustice to the White community specifically.
I received a call from a teacher today, and spent some time talking to her, about what would happen if the hate crime enhancement wasn't, isn't filed. And I think it's important to, and I'm going to ask each of you here. to be part of the beginning of the discussion of what constitutes a hate crime.
A hate crime is a criminal act motivated solely for bias. If anything happened before the language was shared, it may not be a hate crime. Those things are still being investigated.
The other thing is that hate crime does not always provide the highest enhancement. People want hate crimes [filed] for various reasons. Sometimes it sends a message. And I'm certainly in favor of sending a message with appropriate.
Sometimes they believe that it adds more time, and if you have a courageous prosecutor or District Attorney who can add them it will indeed add more time. With a misdemeanor, a hate crime provides an additional one year on top of the other sentence. With a felony, it provides an additional three years.
And remember a hate crime is not a stand alone crime, so one is not convicted of a hate crime independent of another criminal act. And the community really needs to know this. I'm encouraging people not to hang their hat just yet on a hate crime enhancement.
I recognize that if there's an expectation that it's a hate crime in the community, and the paper reported it as a hate crime. There was term-specific that would certainly, and anyone reading that would go well yeah, it's a hate crime. But notice that the police department did not say that, and the police department has not given a statement other than the people who were arrested. They never file their cases in the paper and things are still going on.
So what I say to people is that the incident on October 31, we don't put a period behind it, that's actually the beginning of Long Beach to step up and show what resources we have to deal with something awful that happened. And of course, the quote of John F. Kennedy, "Peace is not the absence of conflict, it's how we deal with it afterward." And so we're really being tested.
To be honest, I am hearing some negative, ugly stuff. And this is reaching people at their heart and at their core. We had a Hate Crime Response Meeting last night that was absolutely awesome, and at point I'll refer to Rene [Rene Castro, VP of So. Cal branch of the "National Conference for Community & Justice," a non-profit entity that works with City Hall's "Human Dignity Office."]
[Mr. Castro then presented a draft of a "Human Dignity Pledge for Peace and Understanding" and invited the Commission to approve it if it wished. The voted action wasn't publicly agendized (giving people notice and a chance to comment), but the Commission took a voted action to approve it...and when the failure to agendize the item came to the attention of the City Attorney's office, it directed the Commission to rescind its voted action and to agendize the item for its next meeting if it wishes to pursue it. Following presentations by Mr. Castro, Commission colloquy followed]
Ms. Dempsey: ...[W]e do know...that students are talking about it...
Mr. Castro: It's popped up in some of programs, our on-campus dialogue program, our Talking-In-Class program, students, particularly African-American students, you want to share a little bit?
Amber Vera: Yes, part of my time is with the Human Dignity Program, the other part of my time is with the Talking-In-Class program, where we go on campus and talk with students about different diversity issues, and on my first time on Jordan campus, several of the students brought it up, and didn't understand why, and I'm going to paraphrase or quote kind of what they said, why these two white girls who go to Wilson [High] are getting all this media attention when it happens all the time to us, and there's no attention or media attention to us or about us. So, they're definitely talking about it, they're definitely aware about it, not all of the students, about three of them kind of didn't know what happened, but the rest of them are very aware of it...and feelings are starting to build.
Human Relations Comm'n chair Morgan: That was misinformation...They weren't from Wilson.
Ms. Vera: And I didn't dialogue with them about that because that wasn't the purpose of me being there at that point. I would have liked to but it wasn't the appropriate time and I wasn't at liberty to do that.
Human Relations Comm'n chair Morgan: I do have a question about the Good Samaritan that was involved [African-American male who intervened, preventing further injuries to the women]. Has he come forward?...
Human Relations Comm'nr Douglas: ...He probably won't come forward because of fear of repercussion, I mean, it can be very frightening...
Chair Morgan: Hate crime is defined in the California Penal Code here, it's defined in section 422.55..."For purpose of this title, and for purposes of all other state law unless explicit provision of law or the context clearly requires a different meaning, the following shall apply:
(a) Hate crime means a criminal act committed in whole or part because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics..."[continues citations]
Mr. Castro: Thank you Mr. Chair. The critical piece there is the "because of" and that's why it's so difficult to prove hate crimes but it's also what makes it unique.
Chair Morgan: Well this also goes to what Anitra [Dempsey] was saying, a crime committed in whole or in part.
Ms. Dempsey: And the key thing is, [inaudible] is the District Attorney and law enforcement in general [coughing covers audio] if there is a rational explanation for why something happened, then they will side on the defendant's side. So if, for example, the defendants are saying 'they started it' and the victims are saying 'no we didn't' and there's no independent way of doing it, and if there are facts it's got to be more than just that, but if there are other facts that may support that, then you cannot legally file hate crime charges.
I had a call today where someone asked me about Reginald Denny [1992, L.A. Florence/Normandy], wasn't that a hate crime?...[M]y short answer is that we had a male victim at that time and everyone remembered that it was the image of the riots. But my memory is that everyone who went into that intersection risked being pulled out and injured. Several people were beat up that day. He was pulled out and it was captured as the symbol. And so the group didn't say 'we're attacking white people and oh look there he is,' he just didn't get away quickly, and the media showed that. So my answer, not remembering any other facts, I didn't look it up, is that no, that would not be a hate crime because the suspects attacked everybody that was there.
And again, it's going to be very term-specific and I recognize one, just from my experience, and also because people are tellin' me they don't like it. They don't like it. The community's perception is the analogy that Commander Johnson uses with CSI, we've got a crime, we've got all this major technology that solves it in one hour, and we've got justice so we can sleep well. And that unfortunately is not life.
There are a lot of things that are still being investigated, and because of the sensitivity and just the nature of hate crimes or bias incidents we already know that our community has dug their heels in, and that's OK, because we're hoping to turn this around in a way to have meaningful dialogue as appropriate and make sure that justice is done for the victims first, and that we, if there are lessons for us to learn, that we want to learn it. We don't want to be remiss. We don't want to go 'well it's got to be this way.' So we also need to be patient, and I'm encouraging people to be patient.