Kopp hails attack on hate crimes by Senate committee

The resolution does not call for specific punishments for hate crimes, he said, because there are existing laws that specifically prohibit acts defined as hate crimes and include penalties.

The resolution "is yet another expression by the people's elected representatives and the people," the senator said. "I believe it would be a valuable contribution toward fighting hate crime."

While there is no known evidence that existing laws have discouraged hate crime, Kopp said his resolution could influence an individual who is "on the cusp of committing a criminal act…and might think twice about vandalizing some Jewish- or African-American-owned store."

In the bill, Kopp cites statistics that point to an increase of hate-related and anti-Semitic incidents throughout the Golden State:

More than half of the hate crimes in Los Angeles are violent in nature, the bill states, and the number of incidents increased by 25 percent during 1996.

"Whereas, in 1995, hate crimes against Jewish citizens rose by 21 percent in California, hate crimes against persons based upon sexual orientation rose by 53 percent in…Los Angeles…and a hate mail campaign aimed at African Americans occurred on the University of California at Berkeley…be it resolved…the Legislature does hereby formally denounce hate crimes," the bill reads.

A trailer bill promoting related educational programs in public schools is the resolution's likely successor, he said, but that is still in the idea stage of development.

Kopp said he got the idea for the resolution from a constituent who had read about communities that fight hate crimes in a Parade magazine article. San Bruno resident Tim Pokrywki paraphrased Elie Wiesel in a letter to Kopp: "`If you don't fight hate, hate wins,'" the senator recalled.

In an aside, the lawmaker noted a critical juncture for another of his bills, designed to reverse a new California Department of Corrections policy barring media interviews of inmates.

The prison bill has received widespread support from the American Jewish Congress, media organizations and professional groups, a prison workers' union and prisoners' rights activists, many of whom relied on unrestricted access to those behind bars.

The prison bill rests with the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, where it is slated for a July 1 vote.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.