Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas) hosted an interfaith panel at the Milpitas Unified School District Boardroom last Thursday, showcasing a resolution aimed at reducing hate crimes across the state.
The resolution, ACR 108, officially known as the Compassionate California Resolution, would declare California the first “compassionate state” in the country.
The bill’s text calls on “all sectors of civic and community life” to resolve to be more welcoming and accepting of minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups residing in the state.
And not a moment too soon, at least according to Chu. Hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017, with a sharp increase in crimes involving race, sexual orientation, and religion. Hate crimes did, however, decrease by 2.5 percent overall from 2017 to 2018, according to a study by the California Department of Justice.
“Compassion is a simple word to write but very hard to practice,” Chu stated in a press release. “I believe compassion can go a long way to breaking down barriers and fear.”
Those in attendance heard a brief summary of the resolution, and also heard from several religious leaders from across Silicon Valley. The discussion centered around how faith leaders and their followers can work together with people outside their circles to better understand each other’s perspectives, according to Chu.
Through understanding each other’s beliefs, said the assemblymember, Californians can better understand each other’s struggles.
Speakers included Imam Tahir Anwar of the South Bay Islamic Association; Diane Fisher, the director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley; Jon Pedigo, a priest with Catholic Charities of Silicon Valley; Girish Shah, the cofounder of the Jain Center of Northern California; Jian Sheng of the Chung Tai Zen Center; Nivair Singh of the Sikh Coalition; and Rajeev Singh of the Northern California chapter of the Hindu American Foundation.
“The question still remains: How do we spread compassion?” Singh asked rhetorically during his presentation. “Compassionate California is an answer to that. It encourages us to improve the lives of all California residents and treat them with dignity.”
He presented solutions such as looking at textbook bias and looking at the concept of the Diversity Dividend.
The panel served as a hearing for the Assembly Select Committee on Hate Crimes, which Chu founded in February, 2017, in response to the increasing number of hate crimes across the country after the election of President Donald Trump.
“I think this is the first of many more hearings,” said Chu in a follow-up interview with The Beat. “Religious leaders all have a way of reaching out to their followers, and they can help lead that discussion. I think it’s the first step to foster multiple levels of understanding.”
Since the committee’s establishment, Chu has introduced a flurry of bills meant to combat hate crimes, including AB 300 and AB 301, which seek to amend the state’s hate crime statutes, and AB 1052, which would require law enforcement officers to enroll in state-mandated hate crime training.
“I know there are a lot of you here who think, ‘I have nothing in common with trans women.’ I disagree,” said a trans woman named Roxanne during the event’s public comment segment. “We know what it’s like to lose jobs or not get jobs just because of our appearance.”
She recounted several times when San Jose Police were “called off” from her home after she called them to report harassment.
“There has been institutionalized hate,” she said.
Also in attendance, although not on the panel, was local attorney Anne Kepner, who is in the running for Chu’s assembly seat. Earlier this year, Chu ditched ambitions for another term in the assembly and instead launched a campaign for the County Board of Supervisors.
“If we look at issues from the perspectives of the most vulnerable like in this resolution, we’ll come to better solutions,” said Kepner. “Fighting for everyone’s rights is our mandate.”
Neighboring Fremont, which lies in Chu’s district, and nearby Union City have already declared themselves compassionate cities. Chu hopes the momentum from these declarations will carry over to the state level. He echoed the sentiments of a group of students who spoke at the hearing from Archbishop Mitty High School, advocating for hate crime curriculums in California schools.
Chu added, “I’m hoping we can shed some light and open the doors for suggestions from our faith leaders in our community as a first step to foster this multi-religious, multicultural understanding.”
ACR 108 is tentatively scheduled for a vote on the Assembly floor in January, 2020.