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California’s Jewish lawmakers join show of support for hate crime bills

Source: Written by Gabriel Greschler for J.

Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus joined a coalition of state lawmakers on the Capitol steps in Sacramento on Monday afternoon to promote a slate of bills aimed at addressing hate crimes against minority groups.

Rob Bonta, a member of the Assembly from the East Bay who is part of the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus, organized the gathering so the state’s Jewish, Latino, LGBTQ, Black and Armenian leaders could express solidarity and showcase their legislative efforts amid a rise in racist attacks targeting Asian Americans across the state, including recent violent attacks in Oakland and San Francisco.

There have been 1,226 incidents of hate reported against Asian Americans in California since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a tally this month by AAPI Hate, a San Francisco State University project that tracks attacks against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The incidents coincide with the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the coronavirus, according to the ADL.

“We are not just talking,” said Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a member of the Jewish caucus who represents parts of the East Bay. “We are taking action.”

Many of the lawmakers who spoke at the gathering made mention of former President Donald Trump, blaming his use of the terms “China virus” and “kung flu” to describe the coronavirus as one of the major reasons for the rise in hate toward Asian Americans.

In total, the Jewish caucus is pushing for three bills and one policy proposal related to hate crimes in California.

The first is Assembly Bill 57, introduced in December by new Jewish caucus chair Jesse Gabriel, an Assembly member from the San Fernando Valley area, that would increase training for law enforcement and data collection for hate crimes. It also would strengthen laws surrounding “online hate and harassment, including against members of vulnerable communities.”

The bill incorporates recommendations made by the state auditor in 2018 that found law enforcement is often “inadequate” in handling hate crimes.

“As Jews, we know what it feels like to be targeted with hate,” Gabriel said before lawmakers.

Gabriel also stated that he was pushing for Gov. Gavin Newsom to put $50 million toward the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program in the upcoming 2021-22 state budget proposal. The program, which was bolstered following the Poway Chabad shooting in April 2019, helps improve safety at places of worship.

Next is AB 1440, re-introduced by Bauer-Kahan this month, which would allow district attorneys the ability to charge terrorist threats as either a misdemeanor or a felony and argue for higher bail amounts and longer pretrial detention.

In discussing the bill, Bauer-Kahan brought up the example of Ross Farca, a Concord man who threatened online to kill Jews and was found to be in the possession of an illegal assault rifle. Farca initially posted bail and was released from custody, but was later put back into custody on no bail after threatening a detective who was performing a probation search.

Last is AB 1126 introduced this month by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a Jewish caucus member from the Los Angeles area. This bill would establish a state government commission to monitor hate crimes, create annual reports and make policy recommendations to lawmakers.

Other state lawmakers present at the press conference included, from the Assembly: David Chiu (San Francisco), Robert Rivas (South Bay/Monterey County), Al Muratsuchi (Los Angeles area) and Adrin Nazarian (San Fernando Valley); and from the Senate: Steven Bradford, María Elena Durazo and Dave Min (all representing parts of Los Angeles) and Dr. Richard Pan (Sacramento/Yolo County).

Muratsuchi said he would reintroduce AB 557, a bill that would implement a state hotline for victims of hate crimes. Min mentioned SB 764, of which he is a co-author, which would establish a “statewide domestic terrorism task force” at the state’s Department of Justice.

“Just this past weekend, I learned there was a Black surfer who was assaulted and harassed and called the N-word,” Muratsuchi said. The incident in Manhattan Beach was covered sparingly in the local press. “We’re seeing this hate everywhere. We’re even seeing it at the beach.”