Community groups and law enforcement officials gathered in San Diego’s North County Wednesday for an educational forum about hate crimes and the rising concerns – both locally and nationally – stemming from violence against houses of worship.
The forum came nearly four months after a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Poway. On April 27 – the last day of Passover – suspect John Earnest allegedly attacked the Chabad of Poway, killing worshipper Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60. Three others were also wounded in the shooting: Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 8-year-old Noya Dahan, and her uncle, Almog Peretz.
After being arrested for the synagogue attack, police said Earnest confessed to an incident in March in which he allegedly set fire to a mosque in Escondido. Earnest has pleaded not guilty to hate crime charges and dozens of other state and federal criminal charges.
Wednesday’s forum, presented by the San Diego Regional Hate Crimes Coalition and moderated by Telemundo 20 reporter Sergio Flores, featured speakers such as Yusef Miller, on behalf of the Muslim community in the North County. Miller served as the spokesman for the community following the mosque arson attack.
Miller said that some hate has grown from learned behavior, but said that people of clarity can be the example of how to live in harmony.
On the topic of bullying and hate speech, Miller stressed the importance of reporting it when we see it. The where, when, how and why "makes up a profile of what's going on in our nation, what's going on in our schools and out communities," Miller said.
San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said the fact that leaders and community members were willing to come together to adress the topic was sign of hope that hate crimes may one day cease.
"We cannot accept and tolerate that people can be shopping for their kids' back to school and get slaughtered because of who they are. We can't tolerate that people are praying in a synogague on a holy Passover and that they face violent murder. We can't tolerate that our mosques get burned, that our churches get defaced because LBGT members go there," Stephan said.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office also spoke, as did advocates for victims and witnesses.
Other featured guests included a security specialist with insight on how to protect houses of worship, and a representative from the National Conflict Resolution Center. Panel discussions included members of law enforcement and the Anti-Defamation League.
Organizers hoped the forum would help educate faith centers on the issues surrounding hate crimes and ways to make improvements on security and safety systems.