This past Friday, October 12, Assemblymember Kansen Chu and Santa Clara County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese held a hearing to discuss bias-related bullying.
The event was dubbed beforehand as pertaining to bullying, but a sign outside the discussion hall directed visitors to a “hate crime” hearing. Indeed, as shown by the variety of panel presentations, bias-related bullying and hate crimes are two forms of behavior existing along a unified spectrum, with the former not necessarily rising to the level of criminality, but still posing insistent challenges.
Cortese broke down the categories of people most susceptible to such abuse: “Communities of faith, color, age, gender, and sexual orientation.” All minorities across said categories have experienced bullying and hate crimes. Meanwhile, the mentally ill were also repeatedly cited as a subcategory of people who are vulnerable.
Chu explained that “57% of boys and 43% of girls were bullied [in school] because of their cultural background or religious beliefs, and 9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth have been targeted.”
Even in Santa Clara County, which stands out nationwide for its progressive culture, bullying is a pervasive norm, one which has only grown stronger and uglier in light of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric from the Trump administration and the campaign that preceded it.
Representatives from local district attorney’s offices and schools, along with community leaders, parents, and students, took to the mic to share their experiences with bullying and hate crimes, either as survivors (a term one speaker highlighted as being preferable to “victims”), opponents of hate, or both. Many had personal stories of trauma stemming from their minority or underrepresented status, which led them to take up the cause of combating bias-related abuse.
Chavez framed the problem as pertaining to public safety, stating that The County of Santa Clara consciously works to uphold “the protection of individuals, classes, or groups of community members who experience prejudice, harassment, violence, and oppression in any form.”
Hate crimes are notoriously misidentified by law enforcement agencies. A report from the California State Auditor found that one agency misidentified more than half (8 in 15) of the hate-related cases that came across its desk. Tools and policies for properly identifying hate crimes tend to be inadequate and/or outdated, which makes it harder to prosecute them in light of the high standard of proof.
On the bullying front, regarding both schools and workplaces, the panelists were in agreement that representation is a key aspect of battling back against hatred. In other words, bullies are prone to targeting those who are perceived to be outsiders, or unfamiliar. More representation of people from varying backgrounds in textbooks and curricula can therefore help to curb the ostracization of certain groups and individuals. Likewise, it was deemed important for teachers, school administrators, and employers alike to recognize and acknowledge the underrepresented, so as not to risk creating an atmosphere of exclusion.
In recent months, California bill AB2772 attempted to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement, but was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, who pointed out that ethnic studies are already required by some California school districts.
After hearing a wide range of remarks, commentary, and stories from the diverse groups of panelists, Assemblymember Chu remarked upon the fact that minority communities, whatever their distinctions, are all bound together by this fight:
“An attack on one of us,” he urged the guests to remember, “is an attack on all of us.”
Those words were met with robust applause.