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New Assembly bill would expand hate crimes law, equalize penalties

Source: Written by Sam Ribakoff with J.

Two Jewish members of the state Assembly representing the Bay Area, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and Marc Levine, have introduced legislation that would change hate crime laws by meting out the same punishment for using different “terror symbols,” such as swastikas, nooses and burning crosses.

AB 2282, motivated by the posting of pro-Nazi stickers in Marin County in November 2020, would also expand the number of places where the law is applied to include public property, parks and facilities; school campuses; places of worship and cemeteries.

Under current law, fines and minimum jail times vary depending on the hate symbol used. AB 2282 would apply the same ranges for sentencing and fines, no matter what the symbol.

A number of recent incidents have targeted local Jewish communities, such as the antisemtitic flyers dropped in several Bay Area cities earlier this year by adherents of Goyim TV, a group led by Petaluma’s Jon Minadeo Jr.

Last October, flyers reading “Hitler was right” were posted on a large menorah fixture at a messianic synagogue in Carmichael. Flyers advertising the Aryan Nations hate group were later left at homes and at Deterding Elementary School in Carmichael. Nicholas Sherman, 34, of Sacramento, was convicted of a misdemeanor count of making terrorizing threats for placing flyers bearing images of swastikas on school grounds, and a felony hate crime for desecrating a religious symbol by posting the flyers on the menorah. Sherman was sentenced to 180 days in county jail.

“The bill is focused on terror symbols that are used to, obviously given the name, terrorize people and used in hate crimes,” Bauer-Kahan told J. “Part of what we are trying to do is ensure that there is protection against the use of these terror symbols in more locations … as well as ensuring that we are consistent across the different symbols.”

Part of Bauer-Kahan’s interest in the bill, she said, is how it targets racist symbols, such as the noose, long used to intimidate the Black community but not given the same legal considerations.

“The fact that these [symbols] are not treated equally is, I believe, a vestige of our racist past and that it is time to create equity,” Bauer-Kahan said. “The fact that we would treat a noose as a lesser offense than, say, a swastika — I mean, that feels blatantly unequitable to me. It’s an inequity that needs to be fixed.”

According to statistics from the California attorney general’s office last year, hate crimes committed in the state most frequently targeted race and ethnicity. Anti-Black hate crimes rose 87.7 percent, from 243 in 2019 to 456 in 2020.

AB 2282 originated from the incident in Fairfax in November 2020 when a 19-year-old was caught posting swastika stickers on public lampposts, trash cans and other fixtures.

Angered that hate crime charges couldn’t be filed because the stickers were put on public property, several residents organized the group Name, Oppose and Abolish Hate Marin, or NOAH Marin, to come up with legislation addressing holes in the state’s hate crime laws.

The group reached out to a number of state legislators to take on the bill, and Bauer-Kahan (D-East Bay) was the first to respond, said Fairfax resident Mark Solomons, a Jewish organizer with NOAH Marin.

He said the group sought balance in devising the legislation, aiming to close the legal loopholes while not sending more people, especially people of color, to jail. (Solomons noted that white supremacists are familiar with these laws and know how to exploit them.)

The bill will be heard on March 29 by the Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety. If AB 2282 passes through all of the legislative hoops, said Jordan Curley, Bauer-Kahan’s chief of staff, the bill should be on the governor’s desk by late this summer. 

Solomons feels his political activism connects him to his ancestors who fought for religious freedoms and protections. He said he is a descendant of the Seixas family, which produced some of the first Jewish religious leaders in the United States.

Moses Seixas was the warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in the 18th century. Now the Touro Synagogue, it’s the oldest standing synagogue in the country. 

In 1790, Seixas wrote to President George Washington, sharing his hope that the country would remain a place “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” In Washington’s return response, he wrote: “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The quote is so meaningful to Solomons that he uses it as the signature line on his emails.

“I identify with that [quote] so profoundly,” he said. “It’s the core of who I am. It’s about diversity and respecting the differences of all people.”