Police offer tips to report hate crimes
by Sari Staver
With hate crimes on the rise nationally, a panel of activists and police officers suggested ways San Franciscans can help law enforcement keep the city from joining the trend.
The panel was held Monday, January 9 at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center. It was sponsored by the San Francisco Police Department Chief's LGBT Community Advisory Forum in cooperation with a handful of other community groups.
Captain Teresa Ewins, a lesbian who heads the Pride Alliance for LGBT officers and oversees the Tenderloin district police station, clarified the meaning of hate crimes. Ewins said that to be defined as a hate crime, the incident must be committed against an individual because of who the victim is or who they are perceived to be, which can include race, color, ancestry, and sexual orientation. Such an incident can be a spoken or written threat or an ongoing pattern of intimidation; destruction or vandalism of property; or an attempted or actual physical attack, she said.
"Not all incidents of hatred are crimes," she said. Verbal name-calling is not a hate crime, and must be accompanied by a viable threat of violence and the ability to carry out the threat, she said. The perpetrator must "go out of their way" to pick you out, she said. In the state of California, criminals convicted of hate crimes typically face stiffer penalties, she said.
In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Ewins said that there is no evidence that there has been an increase in hate crimes in San Francisco.
Activist Shaun Haines, a gay man who's founder and president of SF Black Community Matters, asked the panel how the city was responding to the increased activity by the Ku Klux Klan, including distribution of literature and motorcyclists "with hoodies and hats" riding through the Western Addition, carrying flags with swastikas.
Interim police Chief Toney Chaplin, acknowledging FBI statistics that show nationally, hate crimes have "increased significantly" in recent years, said that it is difficult for police to chase motorcyclists in city traffic. Literature distribution is protected by the right to "free speech," he added.
According to Greg Carey, chief of patrol for Castro Community on Patrol, the volunteers' bright orange uniforms give them "a lot of visibility" on the street. Criminals probably don't know if group members can make arrests (they cannot) or if patrollers are armed (they are not) "but they know they are being watched and that can be a deterrent," he said.
Carey said that an upcoming self-defense class is already fully booked but additional classes are planned. He suggested people check the Stop the Violence SF Facebook page for updates. City College also offers self-defense classes, according to San Francisco Safety Awareness for Everyone, or SF SAFE.
A CCOP volunteer training is set for January 21, Carey said.
A number of panelists urged the audience to learn to become "good" witnesses, if they observe a crime in progress.
Ewins said witnesses should try to remember details "head to toe." A criminal may change clothes, so details such as their shoes, facial hair, and tattoos are especially important features to remember, she said.
Chaplin urged the audience to use their cellphone cameras to photograph crimes in progress, if possible. Chaplin said that most phones allow users to access the camera even when the phone is locked. Camera footage has helped police to make arrests and solve crimes, he said.
An audience member, who did not introduce himself, described a recent incident at 24-Hour Fitness where a man, fully clothed, came into the showers and told a handful of men they were "disgusting."
"There would have to be more proof" of intent for such an act to be considered a hate crime, Ewins said.
But she urged people to report such situations to the police so that if this man were apprehended for other crimes in the future, there would be a record of his past behavior.
Castro Merchants President Daniel Bergerac pointed out that non-emergency calls to the police can take a long time to answer and to respond.
"There has to be a better system," he said.
Ewins urged residents to call 911 if they suspect a situation is "escalating" to get an immediate response. If the problem is a homeless person sleeping in a doorway or someone who "just looks suspicious," a call to the non-emergency number is appropriate, she said.
Bergerac argued that it could be "beyond the scope" of an untrained citizen to determine if a situation is escalating.
Ewins responded that if a caller feels threatened, they should be sure to let the dispatcher know that the incident has "gone beyond" simply name calling.
Crime victims must be "assertive enough" to press charges, and if they believe it is a hate crime, say so, said Ewins.
Victims of hate crimes are protected by confidentiality laws and their identity will be secure, a protection also afforded to victims of domestic or sexual violence, she added.
For more information on the CCOP volunteer training, visit
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/patrol-volunteer-basic-training-class-056-tickets-29490723548. Advance registration is required; there is no cost to attend.
For the Stop the Violence Facebook page, visit https://www.facebook.com/StopTheViolenceSF/.