More than 350 people participated in an online forum Feb. 4 to discuss hate crimes, racism, and anti-semitism in Marin County. There was plenty of it to talk about, but so far none of it has been prosecuted as a hate crime.
The conversation was hosted by Marin County District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli and featured a frank explanation of a November 2020 case involving a person placing swastika stickers at several downtown Fairfax locations.
Many residents wanted to understand why charges were not filed after a January news release. Frugoli apologized to the community and explained some of the difficulties in prosecuting hate crimes during the forum, which can be viewed on the DA’s website.
Leonard, a lawyer from Novato and a former assistant district attorney, asked whether any of the stickers were placed on private property and would that property owner come forward.
“I think what you are telling us is that so far your office has not been able to find a remedy. People are looking to get this kind of behavior punished.”
Frugoli told Leonard that if the Fairfax police come up with new information, she would revisit the case.
Another speaker who identified himself as Mark told the D.A. that “We do accept your apology,” but added that he wants to “see the Nazi perp” re-investigated and brought to trial.
The swastika case in Fairfax wasn’t the only matter that citizens considered a hate crime in Marin. The protest on church land in San Rafael in which the statue of St. Junipero Serra was splashed with red paint and pulled down with ropes was another case in which the D.A. declined to prosecute as a hate crime.
One caller said he voted for Frugoli, but said he could not understand how the pulling down of that statue on church property wasn’t a hate crime against Catholic Christians.
“When we carefully reviewed the case, we determined it was not a hate crime, but one of vandalism,” she said. Those involved were charged with felony vandalism.
Two other high profile cases involving juveniles were also talked about at the forum. One involved two Tiburon teens who posted a racially charged message against a black store owner and the other involved students at Redwood High School who were were posting hate messages against Jewish students.
Both cases have disappeared from public sight down a juvenile justice system that protects the children without providing transparency to a concerned community.
Because those cases involve juveniles, Frugoli told the Zoom meeting, “their names and conduct is not going to be disclosed.”
“This was a positive forum with brilliant thoughts and ideas on how to continue to move forward together to build a safer and inclusive community,” she said. “We thank those who took the time to join us and look forward to future community conversations on this and other important topics that affect our community.”
Frugoli told the group that it is important not to pretend “there are no racists or white supremacists in our community.”
In dealing with these high profile cases, Frugoli apologized for not communicating better with the community. Using the phrase “insufficiency of evidence” may have struck some as “dismissive.” “I can see how some would think that,” she said.
But she said she is “listening” to the community and trying to thread the needle on behavior that is protected by the First Amendment and actual hate crimes.
“I hope people will open their hearts and accept that apology” because “our democracy does allow hate speech,” Frugoli said.
Invited participants included:
- Rabbi Susan Leider of Congregation Kol Shofar
- Teveia Barnes Sankin, a Tiburon resident and member of Congregation Kol Shofar who also representedCongregation Rodef Sholom and the Gan Ha Lev Jewish Community of San Geronimo
- Seth Brysk, the Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League
- Alexandra Rosen, a Fairfax resident speaking on behalf of Fairfax Racial Equity and Social Justice
- Morgan Blum Schneider, Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center
- Patrice O’Neill, founder of the Not In Your Town movement
- Noah Griffin, a Tiburon resident, author, historian, and one of the leaders in changing the name of the Dixie School District
- Craig D. Fair, Special Agent in Charge of FBI’s San Francisco Division
Those interested in continuing participation in online discussions are welcome to join Not in Our Town Novato’s virtual speaker series. The next session is February 25 followed by March 11, and March 25.