Photo credit: The Jewish Journal
Last week, a few days before the beginning of Passover, three teens from Northridge California have admitted to setting out in the middle of the night to torment a girl they’ve been accused of bullying at the high school they all attend. With the mother of one of the girls driving, the girls arrived at the house of their classmate and used maple syrup to draw three swastikas on the walkway of the girl’s home and spell out the word “Jew.” They topped off their unforgiving display by leaving feces near the victim’s front door.
Add to all this that the targeted teen’s father is the son of Holocaust survivors and it seems like a hate crime doesn’t it, such a blatant display of anti-Semitism?
Not so fast.
Let’s check California’s definition of a hate crime: California Penal Code 422.55 PC defines a "hate crime" as one "that is committed...in whole or in part...because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics."
The penal code also provides the following examples of a hate crime:
bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, and/or threatening phone calls, letters, e-mails
A look at the facts tells us that we have someone, a young girl and her family, specifically targeted because of their “race or ethnicity” as well as their “religion.” So far so good. And, according to the list of examples, there appears to also be vandalism, right?
According to Capt. Kris Pitcher of the LA Police Department, the “incident” does not rise to the level of a hate crime because there was no vandalism, per se. According to Pitcher, who was merely explaining the law, “there was no lasting damage,” which must occur in order for a charge of vandalism to be levied. No vandalism, no crime, therefore no hate crime. Because the girls used maple syrup and feces—neither of which causes permanent damage to one’s property—instead of spray paint or any other “lasting” medium, they won’t be charged. The “incident,” however, will be treated, according to reports, “statistically as a hate crime.” Oh, well then. There’s some comfort for the girl and her father. Their pain and torment will show up in the diluted form of some number on some annual report. Exactly the kind of justice every victim seeks.
For this chronic-senser, here’s what I don’t get: Because maple syrup and feces aren’t indelible in some way, the hate directed toward the victim is therefore rendered non-existent. How does that happen, and by what mysterious means? How does the infliction of such cruelty on the girl and her family just…disappear? Is this how such distinctions should be made when it comes to applying some form of a hate crime law, that it all comes down to maple syrup versus a can of Krylon? Is this what was intended when the legislation for this law was drafted?
The best police in Los Angeles can do with the law as it is written is, well, nothing. According to Lt. Silva Atwater of the LAPD, “It was a very unfortunate incident, but it did not amount to a criminal act.” Police have, however, recommended to the City Attorney’s office that the mother who drove the girls to the victim’s home be charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” which carries a $1,000 fine and the possibility of one year in jail. If ever there was a mother who should experience three hots and a cot, this one gets my vote.
The only lesson I find in all of this works to the advantage of the perpetrator. If you want to target someone because of their disability, gender, race, religion, nationality, etc., just make sure that when you launch your attack to use maple syrup or, hell, chalk, lipstick, peanut butter, or something else that won’t cause “lasting” physical damage to their property. Then there’s nothing anyone can do to hold you accountable for your ignorant beliefs and malicious behavior. Because the emotional damage you intend to inflict upon your victim won’t count for anything. In fact, it apparently doesn’t even exist.
At least according to the California law.