|Not in Our Town Northern California:
When Hate Happens Here: Story Synopses|
Staging a Response to Hate, Newark, CA Fall 2002
In the fall of 2002, Newark Memorial High School was making plans to present The Laramie Project as the school's fall play. The play explores how the residents of Laramie, Wyoming dealt with the murder of Matthew Shepard, a shocking act of violence that focused the country's attention on hate crimes. In the middle of rehearsals for the play, students learned that one of their peers had been murdered in a crime horrifyingly reminiscent of the one they were exploring on stage. Gwen Araujo was found brutally beaten and strangled to death and her body dumped in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada mountains over 100 miles away. She was allegedly killed by a group of male students upon their discovery that Gwen was biologically male. The story follows cast members as they apply the lessons about hate and homophobia they learned from the play in their own lives, and illustrates how the play became a catalyst for parents, residents and civic leaders in Newark to take action and respond to these issues in their community.
Summer of Hate, Sacramento and Redding, CA, 1999
In the early morning hours of June 18, 1999, three Sacramento synagogues - Congregation B'Nai Israel, Congregation Beth Shalom, and the Kenneset Israel Torah Center - were all fire-bombed within a 45 minute period. It was one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in California's history. Jimmie Yee, a Sacramento City Councilmember who oversees the district where the crimes took place, was personally shaken by the hate crimes, as six years earlier, Yee and his family were targeted in a series of attacks against the Asian and African American communities when a gasoline-filled bottle was thrown through a window in his home. The night after the synagogue bombings, Yee and several members of the Asian and African American community organized to take a collective stand against anti-Semitic hate crimes. The next day, approximately four thousand people, including some three hundred clerics of diverse religious backgrounds, politicians, and law enforcement officials, shared a stage at the Sacramento community center under the banner "Sacramento Together United We Stand."
The arson attacks in Sacramento were only the beginning of the "Summer of Hate." The avowed white supremacists who allegedly committed the synagogue bombings, brothers Benjamin Matthew and James Tyler Williams, returned to their hometown of Redding and committed a deadly crime. Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder were found murdered in their home less than two weeks after the Sacramento arsons. Less than a week after the murders, the Williams brothers were arrested on suspicion of murder. The community was shocked to find out that the Williams brothers were from the area and possessed a cache of weapons and white supremacist and anti-gay literature in their home. Four hundred people gathered to remember Scott and Gary and speak out against discrimination against the gay community. Activists, religious leaders of different faiths, and politicians all took a public stand against hate crimes of every kind.
Though these acts of hate connected the members of the torched synagogues to the family of the murdered men in Redding, this relationship had not been recognized by the two communities until a B'Nai Israel congregation member made the discovery that his assistant was married to Gary Matson's brother. In the spring of 2004, the congregation of B'Nai Israel held a Shabbat service for Gary Matson and Scott Mowder, recognizing the connection between the crimes and the power of coming together and uniting their communities against hate.
Welcome Signs, Anderson, CA, Winter 2004
In January of 2004, an 8-foot cross was erected and burned on the lawn of an African American family in the town of Anderson in Shasta County. Fearing for their safety, the family considered moving. City officials met with the family and encouraged them to stay, vowing to take action. The police chief treated the cross burning as a hate crime and called in the FBI to treat the offense as a federal crime. Six hundred people led by the mayor and an all volunteer organization, Shasta County Citizens Against Racism (SCCAR), showed up the following week to march through the neighborhood as a demonstration of support for the family. In addition, the city was declared a "no hate zone" as signs were installed at the city limits stating: "No Room for Racism, Hate, or Violence." The two offenders were caught and convicted of their crimes.
Reversing Vandalism, San Francisco, CA 2000
In 2000, library staff at the San Francisco Central Library discovered books vandalized beyond repair. Most disturbing was the pattern of the crime - all the books were gay-oriented texts. For over a year, the vandalism continued until library workers decided to take action. On one of her days off, a librarian staked out book stacks where mutilated titles had been discovered before. She happened upon a man returning a freshly-slashed book. San Francisco Police Department Inspector Milanda Moore, of the department's hate crimes division, responded immediately, arresting 46-year-old security guard John Perkyns, who had fresh razor blades and book carvings in his jacket pocket. In all, more than six hundred books had been destroyed .After the prosecution of Perkyns, the police returned the damaged books. The library staff decided to offer the damaged books to artists as materials for creative expression; books. When the books came back in their altered form, they would take on a life of their own. The resulting spring 2004 exhibition, "Reversing Vandalism," included over two hundred original works of art created from the damaged books, by artists in over 20 states and from as far away as Japan and France.