Berkeley infighting stalls hate crime action

After the meeting, rivals Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilman Kriss Worthington agreed on one thing: The matter had been sidetracked by political infighting.

Tuesday's discussion came in response to a comprehensive hate-crime initiative proposed by Dean. It called for city employees to be trained about hate crimes by the Anti-Defamation League as well as for the designation of specific police officers to investigate such incidents along with public education efforts.

"I'm discouraged by the fact that it appeared to me that people wanted to make this a very political thing," said Dean on Wednesday. She was uncertain when City Manager Weldon Rucker would complete his review.

Worthington also expressed dismay by the council's failure to act immediately, saying, "Shirley Dean doesn't want the council to vote for anything I put on the agenda because she hates my guts."

Worthington had proposed that the city offer a $5,000 reward leading to the conviction of perpetrators of hate crimes. He also wants the city to sponsor a town hall forum bringing together all victims of recent hate-crime activity. The issue, he contended, is "still racially and religiously divided."

The city has been rocked by several incidents targeting different racial and ethnic groups, according to Worthington. Among them was an attack in late March in which a brick was thrown through the glass door at Berkeley Hillel and an anti-Semitic obscenity scrawled on a dumpster.

At the start of Tuesday's council meeting, several speakers voiced their opposition to sensitivity training offered by the ADL.

According to Dean, opponents cited a 9-year-old lawsuit against the ADL and alleged that the organization has been known to "spy on other groups."

They apparently were referring to the suit filed in 1993 by 19 plaintiffs who accused the ADL of illegally obtaining and disseminating private records about them. The ADL settled the suit with a $178,000 payment, but denied allegations of wrongdoing.

Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the ADL, was not at the Berkeley council meeting. When reached Wednesday, he defended his organization, pointing out that it has drafted laws "in almost every state" dealing with hate crimes and routinely trains hundreds of law-enforcement agencies nationwide about dealing with hate-crime activity.

Currently, the ADL is providing training at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., on hate crimes and extremism, Bernstein said.

Responding to the recent settlement, Bernstein said, "There are clearly groups out there that don't approve of ADL's work in fighting extremism."

Deborah Louria, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council's East Bay region, also has been monitoring the debate in Berkeley.

When informed of the failure to reach agreement, she expressed hope that "things aren't sidetracked by competing parties."

Louria characterized Dean's initiative as "a great resolution that needs to be realized."

Given the rash of recent incidents, Louria said: "It's such a timely issue, it's such an important issue. It's really an issue that can't wait."