Davis names panel to examine groups that spawn hate crimes

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California Gov. Gray Davis has named former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former Gov. George Deukmejian to head a committee to study not just hate crimes, but the groups that spawn them.

"Hate groups that preach intolerance and transform their venom into violence are a threat to civilized society," Davis said in a statement Thursday of last week. "The proliferation of these groups, especially those with paramilitary intentions, strikes at the heart of this state's ideals."

The governor also suggested that the state should edge as close as it can to monitoring the groups without violating free-speech rights. The committee will examine what can be done lawfully to "curtail the unlawful acts of these dangerous bigots," he said.

"We applaud his efforts," said Jessica Ravitz, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific region. "If any good can come out of the recent horrific incidents, it would be something that's preventative."

Of particular interest is Davis' eagerness to examine how hate groups may incite followers to take action.

At this point, Stanford University Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, a constitutional scholar, is the only person who has been named to join Christopher and Deukmejian on the committee.

In a related development, a bill that would make $5 million available to prosecute hate crimes is wending its way through the state's political pipeline. News of the bill, now pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee, was cheered by district attorneys throughout the state.

"These kinds of cases are the hardest to prosecute," said Clarence Johnson, spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan. "They are hard to prove, and they are frequently wrapped around the First Amendment. This [grant money] would help us add investigators as well as prosecutors."

While monetary restitution from the state is currently available for victims of hate crimes, the victim is not eligible to receive it unless his or her case is tried specifically as a hate crime.

According to a recent report by the state Department of Justice, nearly 2,000 hate crimes were reported to authorities in 1998 — nearly five each day. Furthermore, 70 percent involved an act of violence. However, in only 131 instances did a conviction result.

In another effort to allay hate crimes, Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a member of one of the synagogues struck by arson, is sponsoring legislation that would allocate $500,000 to building a museum of tolerance in the state's capital. That bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The museum would provide educational programs, serve as a research arm for investigators and law-enforcement officials and house a permanent exhibit.

A third bill, proposed by Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles), would boost penalties for bias-spurred killings. It, too, is pending in committee.

Davis also introduced a new Web site, www.dfeh.ca.gov, that presents information on civil rights laws and procedures for filing complaints.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.