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Tara Hill Hate Crime Gary Walker | Fri, Jun 19 2009 03:33 PM

Two recent crimes, a murder and a property crime; one in our nation’s capital and the other in Culver City, have once again drawn attention to the politics of hate.

The June 10 murder of Steven Johns, a United States Holocaust Museum security guard in Washington D.C., allegedly by 89-year-old white supremacist James von Brunn, left a dark cloud over an institution that chronicles arguably one of history’s most heinous periods. And at Tara Hill Condominiums, a family awakened to find two swastikas painted on their door and home several weeks ago by an unknown perpetrator, sending shock waves through the upscale community.

While the two events are dissimilar in the fact that one is a murder and the other is a property crime, the thread that ties them together like an umbilical cord is the symbolism behind them: von Brunn is a known anti-Semite who espoused hateful views about Jews and African-Americans on the Internet for decades, and the Tara Hill family is Jewish, with the swastika serving as the perpetrator’s weapon of choice.

The Tara Hill crime is still under investigation, says Lt. Dean Williams of the Culver City Police Department.

“We are investigating the incident. No other similar crimes like this have been reported,” Williams told the News.

According to California state law, hate crime charges are filed when there is evidence that bias, hatred, or prejudice based on the victim's real or perceived race/ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation is a substantial factor in the commission of the offense.

A spate of accusatory e-mails between several residents at the condominium complex abut the identity of who may have painted the swastikas and the reasons why the crime occurred added to the already heightened anxiety soon after the crime was discovered several weeks ago.

It is not uncommon for neighbors and friends in a close-knit neighborhood or community to feel that they have suffered the assault as well, says Dr. Janis Rosenberg, a Culver City psychologist.
“Vicarious victimization does sometimes occur in an area where people know each other and live in close proximity to each other,” Rosenberg told the News. “It can sometimes make neighbors wonder who the culprit was and some may think that their home is no longer safe.”

George Michela, a 15-year Tara Hill resident, expressed feelings along those lines in a recent interview.
“It freaks me out that this exists right next door to me,” he said.

Rebecca Rona-Tuttle, a Culver City resident and communications specialist who formerly worked with the Anti-Defamation League, feels that an organization similar to the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission could be beneficial to residents when this type of crime occurs.

“A human relations commission would encourage a community forum for people to discuss the act that transpired,” Rona-Tuttle, who is the founder of the Culver City-based community action group Together, explained. “It could also serve as a forum to take a stand against these kinds of crimes.”

Rosenberg thinks that an entity like a human relations commission could be helpful when a family, individual or community is targeted for hate crimes.
“It might be useful in increasing the acceptance of difference among diverse people,” the psychologist said.

Rona-Tuttle realizes that not all commissions function the same. Her idea is to encourage and assist Culver City residents in creating a community in which people of all backgrounds feel comfortable, accepted and valued; a community in which all people are treated equally and with respect.

“In my view, this would take into consideration all people who could possibly be discriminated against—on the basis of race or ethnicity, socio-economic level, national origin, religion, age, gender, disability and sexual orientation,” she said.

Rosenberg said that it is not surprising that archaic symbols of a past such as swastikas or a burning cross on a lawn can still evoke powerful, searing emotions, memories and images of a bygone, more dangerous era.
“Not at all,” she asserted. “These symbols were often precursors to real violence in the past, although it is less likely now that there are laws against hate crimes and there is more public awareness about these acts.
“But,” Rosenberg added, “Violence still sometimes occurs after these acts.”

Michela enjoys living at Tara Hill, but said that the incident with the swastikas have had a strong affect on him.
“It makes me want to consider leaving,” he said.

Although great strides have been made toward more harmony between different ethnic and racial groups over the last several decades, the fact that acts like the murder at the Holocaust Museum and the swastika at Tara Hill have occurred remind the public that more work needs to be done, say experts on both the East and West Coasts.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, noted in an interview following the fatal shooting that the politics of hate is still alive.

“It just reminds us that even in America, perhaps the greatest democracy of the world, we have haters among us,” he said. “It shows that there is a lot of work to be done in America to rid ourselves of bigotry and anti-Semitism.”

Sara Bloomfield, the director of the Holocaust Museum, addressed that topic on the Today show as well. “Hate is still with us,” she said. “This is why this museum exits.”

Rosenberg agrees.

“Unfortunately, it speaks to the need to educate our children that about what these symbols meant- and still mean- to people,” Rosenberg concluded.

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