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Annie Keeghan

Annie Keeghan
May 15
K-8 editor, author, and curriculum consultant for Best advice ever received: "Remember Annie, the students aren't here for you; you're here for them."

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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 12, 2012 12:16AM

When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?

Rate: 20 Flag

From the Jewish Journal

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 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:

physical assault


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.




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So where are the rallies for this family?
Too bad they don't have copies of threatening emails... perhaps an appropriate sentence for the mother is that she do three weeks of public service in the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles.
Ok, so it doesn't meet the test of.... "physical assault" or of "vandalism."

Surely it meets the test of.... "bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, and/or threatening phone calls, letters, e-mails."

Must all three be present before it is considered, by the cops, a hate crime? That is ridiculous! That cop's attitude seems wrong to me.

I smell a rat here.

Thanks for this.
While I am not for hate-crimes laws and have written abt why here/elsewhere I want these people punished.

Good Lord! So if the instrument(s) of one's hate is (are) biodegradable, it is inconsequential? Awful. I like jmac's idea about community service at the Holocaust Museum.
I think the takeaway is that either (A) the police do not understand the law, or (B) they're not interested in enforcing it, and are just spouting sophist bull until people go away.
This is horrific. How could anyone draw a swastika, let alone with syrup on someone's sidewalk? How could anyone do this to other people? I just don't understand how people can be so freaking mean. The mother who drove the girls is as dumb as a block. Hard to believe natural selection was in action there. Someone needs to have the brains and the guts to charge that sorry mistake for a mother with something.
Is there a post-medieval punishment remotely appropriate here?
You people should be happy about this. This proves that girls can be just as effective at bullying as boys. Used to be that only boys were capable of traumatizing and depressing hated people. This proves that you don't need a penis to be one.

And the police are just taking the same stance that teachers and school administrators take towards bullying in school. They are vicariously enjoying the bullying done by students, and wish they could do it themselves.
This is what happens when lawyers take over at the expense of common sense, which, in my 55 years, I have found isn't so common....

A great post.
How about force-feeding the feces to the mother, giving her the option of coating them with syrup? No permanent damage done, I assume.
Phyllis: If you're referring to Trayvon Martin, may I remind you that he was murdered before his 18th birthday by an asshole who already had 3 serious arrests under his belt before his 29th birthday?

My main concern is that, as with serial killers, the girls who did this are doing the equivalent of killing small animals or fire starting. They will escalate to worse crimes if they are not stopped.

Can the victims do a civil suit for pain and suffering and get restraining orders? It also would be interesting to see how the LAPD has responded to someone doing such a thing at one of their homes, even with syrup and doo doo. You'd better believe that someone would go to jail.

Here's to Northridge stepping up on this. Anti Semitic misconduct and violence is not being ignored. It is on the rise along with crimes against people of color and women.
Wow, do mothers have nothing better to do than go out in the middle of the night and help kids do such horrific things? At least their stupidity is broadcast. I don't even know if that's a comfort, they're probably proud of it. They're so dumb the swastika's drawn the wrong way too. It's difficult not to get depressed when you see such cruelty and ignorance-but let's not give them that satisfaction or power. The family may hopefully be able to sue for defamation.
These cops are obviously protecting the perpetrators from having life-long criminal records attached to them. Here's what comes to my mind as far as criminality is concerned: TRESPASSING, VANDALISM--yes smearing ANYTHING unwanted on someone's property is vandalism (here piggy piggy...I've got a donut for you...stupid ass cops). Are they telling us that if some punk with a mohawk was caught using maple syrup on a downtown business to write something out, they wouldn't charge him with vandalism? Going on to someone's property at night is a crime. The girls should be forced to clean it up with police present....and the mother should face all the charges the girls face and then some.
Well, it can't be a hate crime because they drew the swastika wrong.

Besides, who does writing with a feces hurt more - the victim of the message or the person holding the feces?

(I'll bet they went to Micheal's Art Supply to look for a feces pen before they did this.)
Really? The mother drove them?
This seems a miscarriage of justice. I think the mother should be prosecuted. This was not playful teen fun, it was horrific. It was personal and it was unfounded. The girls should have been punished, made to clean it up and the mother held liable.
Some interesting comments; I love jmac's idea of having the mother doing public service at a Holocaust museum.
As far as bullying or harassment charges that some are discusisng: Legally, both of these require repeated acts before charges can be made. A single incident does not constitute either. However, if the alleged bullying incidents at school are investigated and found to be true, I assume this late-nite attack would be included in that charge. The school has respond by suspending the girls; good for them. But let's see how they follow through on the bullying allegations. And comedian Jon Lovitz has spoken out as well; the victim's father is good friend of his.
Passage of hate crime laws were originally done so that the feds could intervene with harsher punishments post-trial.

I'm betting this was done by a group of punk-ass middleclass kids.
This fails to meet the specifications of "hate crimes" and though I'm not a lawyer, I think the bullies' parents are liable for any damages she may seek, in civil and criminal courts.

Trespass and vandalism come to mind.

Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
What about anti-bully legislation isn't there anything there that would stick? As for the mother who drove them, she should be held accountable. It is a sad sad commentary on this day and age.
Thank you--well written and surgically stated, just like swastika that was plastered on this family's sidewalk..the entrance into their sacred home. There are a lot of sad, twisted and ignorant people in the world. Your essay reminds us that we just have to keep pointing them out--so the behavior isn't repeated!
BTW: I'm glad that they included that inset picture of the feces with the word "FECES" , because otherwise we might doubt the validity of this report.

But, how do they know that that was the actual feces? It could be an innocent feces that was just lying there minding it's own feces business.

I hope that we've all learned an important lesson here -- don't leave feces on your front porch--an idle feces is the Devil's plaything -- indeed!

Anyway -- thanks for the scoop on this poop.
Wow! Now if someone had written "Nigger" in syrup, would that be a hate crime?
OMG this is quite upsetting.
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I heard they tried to use the Maple Syrup defense in Nazi Germany too, but it did not hold up there. Can they file a civil suit against the perpetrators?
Yes, they can file a civil suit. The suit would be on the grounds of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The elements that make a case are behavior that is outrageous or extreme, intended to cause severe distress, which results in severe distress. Usually there is some showing of physical symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety or loss of appetite. There are other grounds. The use of human waste where someone might encounter it could be assault. There is trespassing. On the criminal side, there is terroristic threat, as well as vandalism. (someone backing a garbage truck up to your house and dumping is vandalism, even if you can pick it up.) The distinction made by the police is stupid. Graffiti can be painted out. Human waste requires special disposal. In California, people taken from jails to pick up roadside trash do not pick up human waste; it's considered bio-hazard. I could sit here all day and come up with criminal and civil charges.

When you sue children, you really do have to sue the children. They have no money, so you get paid if they get a job or inherit property, which is a ways down the road. In this case, there was an adult involved. No doubt she owns a house, and if she has no money to pay a judgment (her home insurance will not pay it) the victims put a judgement lien on the house. If there is nothing else. The losing defendant is required to disclose their entire finances to the plaintiff. The victims are not at all powerless. Kids are told that they can screw up their futures with a criminal bust in high school, but they can really screw up their financial futures with a crime that results in a civil judgment against them. That hangs over them their whole lives, in a way a couple of months in a facility would not. I'd encourage going after them civilly.
Thank you so much Sirenita. People will be much less likely to commit such horrendous acts if they have to answer to a serious lawsuit.