[OPE-L:6308] hateful backlash

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 14 2002 - 11:54:13 EST

Since we had some discussion of media coverage of this, I thought I 
would forward it.

Victims of hate crimes recount horror stories
Outpouring of post-Sept. 11 traumas in S.F.

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, January 11, 2002

San Francisco Chronicle


San Francisco -- Life changed fast for Saif Ataya after the jetliners 
hijacked by terrorists slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade 
Center towers four months ago today.

First came the name-calling and death threats. Then the hateful 
graffiti and vandalism at his small San Francisco store. The breaking 
point, however, was when his 5-year-old daughter was called a 
terrorist on her schoolyard.

"I was devastated," said Ataya, an Arab American who runs a corner 
grocery store in the city's quiet Eureka Valley neighborhood.

Ataya's post-Sept. 11 experience is part of a disturbing trend.

According to figures recited yesterday during a hearing at San 
Francisco City Hall, the number of hate crimes and cases of 
discrimination and harassment against Arab Americans and Muslims has 
soared nationwide since Sept.11.

Yesterday's hearing before the San Francisco Human Rights Commission 
and San Francisco supervisors was convened by Supervisor Gavin Newsom 
to give victims of hate violence and discrimination a chance to tell 
their stories in public. It also provided an opportunity for law 
enforcement officials -- from the FBI, San Francisco Police 
Department and the San Francisco district attorney -- to promise that 
these cases have been given a high priority in terms of enforcement 
and prosecution.

"We have zero tolerance," said District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

Among those testifying was state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who 
noted that before Sept. 11, his office logged about five hate crimes 
a day, with blacks and gays the most frequent victims. Since the 
terrorist attacks, the number has jumped to 20 a day. Crimes against 
Arab Americans, Muslims and those perceived to be in those groups 
accounted for the large increase.

According to national statistics compiled by the San Francisco 
organization Intergroup Clearinghouse, there have been more than 
1,700 cases of discrimination and violence against Arab Americans, 
Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs since Sept. 11. Six deaths have been 

Nearly one-third of the backlash cases were logged in California. Bay 
Area law enforcement agencies, community groups and civil rights 
organizations received 338 complaints.

Experts say those numbers probably represent only a sliver of the 
actual cases of violence, harassment and discrimination, since 
victims are often reluctant to come forward.

"In the Bay Area, we've had people beaten up so badly that they've 
ended up in the hospital with concussions," said Jill Tregor, 
executive director of Intergroup Clearinghouse. "We've had families 
forced from their housing. We've had kids scared to go to school. 
Vandalism. Death threats."

Like Ataya, Amatullah Almarwani had a horror story to tell. She said 
she still goes to bed recalling the phone call she got at the Islamic 
Center of San Francisco right after the terrorist attacks. A calm 
voice "informed me that there was a bullet waiting for my head, and 
the head of my child," she said.

Now, said Almarwani, who works at the Islamic center, fear runs 
through her community. Fewer people worship in mosques or frequent 
Arab American businesses. Others testified yesterday that they have 
been fired from their jobs, evicted from their housing, shunned in 
stores and victimized by police profiling. Beatings, rocks thrown 
through windows and verbal taunts have become routine.

Nuwafq Sheikh has driven a bus for the Municipal Railway in San 
Francisco for the past 10 years. Before Sept. 11, he said he never 
experienced anti-Arab harassment. Things are different now.

"I've had people ask me if I had a bomb on my bus, or if I plan to 
crash the bus into a building," he said. "I've been called a 
terrorist and told that I look like Osama bin Laden. I just hope the 
problem will go away one day."

Victims and their advocates urged officials to do more and 
recommended programs to inform the public about tolerance, to crack 
down on offenders, to track hate-based violence, harassment and 
discrimination, to provide more support services for victims and to 
make sure that those in authority, such as teachers and cops, take 
the incidents seriously.

"We are Americans," said Almarwani, "and we are suffering."

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com.

San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 17

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