Governors hate-crime proposals fall short, some say

The penalties for committing hate crime — or even consorting with paramilitary groups — may increase dramatically if lawmakers approve a package of law enforcement reforms introduced Monday by Gov. Gray Davis.

The recommendations were spawned by a special commission on hate crime, appointed by Davis after a troubling summer that included the firebombing of three Sacramento-area synagogues and a shooting spree at a Los Angeles Jewish community center.

Davis introduced the package of proposed laws at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles — the same place he introduced the commission Sept. 3. The commission was co-chaired by former Gov. George Deukmejian and former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Commissioners included Stanford University Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, a constitutional scholar.

"These kinds of savage attacks motivated by hate strike at the very ideals of our civilization," Davis said, flanked by Deukmejian and Christopher.

But while many applauded the proposals, others said they were lacking in the area of education.

"Part of the solution — part of the solution — is to use our criminal justice system to make it clear the state does not tolerate hurting people," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, a member of one of the three synagogues firebombed in June.

"But there are a lot of other things we must do as well — education in particular," said Steinberg. He has been spearheading efforts for a Sacramento-based museum of tolerance modeled after the Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Jessica Ravitz, assistant director for the Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific Region. agreed that a multi-pronged approach is needed. "Educating law enforcement, educating in schools, anti-bias training. But we'd be remiss if we didn't applaud this effort. It's a good step in the right direction after what we've seen in this state this past year."

Attorneys from the ADL Western States Council met with commission staff before a first draft was issued.

Commissioners "started out with a list of questions they wanted answered and topics they wanted researched, and this report corresponds pretty much exactly with the items on that list," said Tamar Galitzen, ADL associate counsel.

Concerns included "tightening up some of the loopholes on hate crime law, militia groups and some of the tactics they use to harass public officials and other people."

The commission has yet to tackle hate on the Internet and programs to educate students and law enforcement officials. In particular, use of the Internet to promote and incite hate crime is problematic.

"Even if you take out the First Amendment issue, there are no clear-cut solutions," Galitzen said. "For instance, it exists internationally, so what California does may have little impact around the globe. For another thing, every time Congress passes a law, by the time it takes effect it's about three years behind the times technologically."

Existing attempts at regulating the Internet work when there is a clear counterpart in print communication, she said. And innovations unique to the Internet, such as filtering technologies, help muddy the issue even further.

When Davis seated the commission, he suggested that the state should edge as close as it can to monitoring the groups, doing whatever it can lawfully to "curtail the unlawful acts of these dangerous bigots."

"This is just the first round," Galitzen said.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.