Friday, September 14, 2001
County Officials Urge Citizens to Bring Halt to Stereotyping, Hate Crimes
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County officials yesterday called on citizens to refrain from taking out their anger about Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on innocent victims.
People of Middle Eastern descent and those perceived to be Middle Eastern have been threatened and harassed in the days since Tuesday’s attacks, Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations President Susanne Cumming said.
Latinos, Indians, and South Pacific Asians are also being targeted because attackers perceive them to be Middle Eastern, she said.
Middle Eastern students at USC have reported being harassed and a Middle Eastern youth was assaulted at a high school yesterday by a student who hit him and told him “this is happening because of you.”
An estimated 750,000 to one million Arab-Americans live in California, more than in any other state, commission executive director Robin Toma said.
“We do not need to add to the body count,” Toma said.
“It’s a nightmare,” Sarah Eltantawi, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said. “It’s a nightmare for our country and our community.”
Eltantawi said her organization has received reports of 25 threatening phone calls and three e-mails and she herself received a death threat on the air during a recent radio interview.
“It’s such a setback for our community and all the work we have done to show our diversity,” Eltantawi said. “Our organization has turned into a hate crime hotline.”
Muslim children at school are being told by other children to go home, even though this is the only country they have ever known, Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council said.
Improvements have been made since the Oklahoma City bombing—when early suspicion fell on persons of Middle East-origin before officials discovered the perpetrators were home-grown—but still more needs to be done, Lekovic said.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Caprice Young reassured parents that hate crimes would not be tolerated by the schools.
“Our schools are going to remain safe places for all of our children,” Young said.
Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke urged people to remember that the face of Los Angeles is multifaceted and not to blame anyone for the terrorism because of their appearance.
“I would say to some of those people who are hysterical and who want retribution, ‘let’s not blame the innocent,’” Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke said. “The people of Los Angeles are not the people who are responsible for any of the things that happened.”
Deputy District Attorney Scott Millington, head of his office’s hate crimes division, said any hate incidents would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association echoed those remarks.
“If we in law enforcement and local government allow hate and the backlash against Tuesday’s events to prevail then those individuals who carried out this act of war will have prevailed,” Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian said. “This will not be allowed to occur.”
The Commission on Human Relations released a plan yesterday to deal with the threat of hate crimes.
Among the actions outlined in the commission’s “Plan for Unity and Tolerance,” are:
•Distributing 30- and 60-second public service announcements to discourage hate incidents.
•Increasing security at mosques, Islamic schools, and cultural centers with the aid of the Sheriff’s department and local police departments.
•Appearing on TV shows to explain plans to offer protection to protect the Islamic and Arab-American communities.
•Setting up a toll-free line for people to report hate crimes or discrimination.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company