H-ARROYO GRANDE

Apr 12, 2011 2:42 AM by Ariel Wesler

Community takes a stand against hatred

The Arroyo Grande community is working on moving forward tonight after dealing with two hate crimes in less than a month.

The first happened on March 18th after a cross was stolen from St. John's Lutheran Church. It was then set on fire near the home of a black family.

Two weeks later, vandals drew swastikas and racial slurs Mesa Middle School.

It was a full forum at St. John's Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande. A panel of community leaders led the discussion, looking for better ways to address hate crimes.

"Have some type of plan in place, so when something happens, people know what to do," said Booker Neal, a civil rights expert.

"It only takes one ignorant person to create an egregious crime to set us back from all the progress we've made," said Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals.

Experts say hatred and racism grows out fear of what you don't know and that ignorance can be dangerous.

"If you're fearful find out, connect, communicate, talk to the people, find out who they are," said Cyndi Silverman with the Anti-Defamation League.

Local leaders from the NAACP say they have received hundreds of phone calls since the cross burning, which has quickly become a crime against the community.

"Yes, it doesn't represent us as a community, but nonetheless, we have to talk about it because we have to heal from it," said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

One by one, people came up to share they're own thoughts, send messages of support, and offer suggestions to better help young people stand up against hatred through school programs that teach tolerance.

"Until they experience what it is like to feel that your rights are being taken away, just because of who you are, then that lesson will not be learned," said Robert Sachs of San Luis Obispo.

"No matter what color you are, it could have happened," said Jobe Salter of Lompoc. "What are you going to do now?"

Local leaders said they will discuss setting up a hate crime task force or committee to layout a plan for dealing with these types of crimes. The Arroyo Grande police chief says his department is pursuing numerous leads and they are optimistic about the investigation.

While these recent crimes have rocked the community, the NAACP says speaking up is important because hate crimes often go underreported.

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