‘This Kind of Hate Crime Is Not an Epidemic’

A week after Buford O. Furrow shot innocents at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, a question lingered in the Jewish community: How serious is the threat of recurrent, violent hate crime against Jews in Los Angeles?

The anxiety continued as anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on a Van Nuys apartment building the day after the shooting and at Temple Knesset Israel in Hollywood last Shabbat. On Saturday, Knesset Israel congregants, many of whom are elderly Holocaust survivors, arrived at shul to discover a swastika and the words “Jews die” spray-painted in letters 6 feet tall on the front of the building. The perpetrators are still at large.

Nevertheless, Los Angeles Police Department sources insist that anti-Semitic crime in the city is low. “We’ve had one very tragic incident, but this kind of hate crime is not an epidemic,” says Cmdr. Margaret York, LAPD hate crimes coordinator. “In fact, just the opposite is true.”

During the first half of 1999, only 193 hate crimes were committed in LAPD jurisdiction, but there were no murders or attempted murders, York says. Only 37 of the hate crimes were perpetrated against Jews. “And among those, violent crime was by far the minority,” York says. “The majority of the crimes consisted of vandalism and other property crimes.”

York says that the LAPD takes even graffiti vandalism seriously, having revamped its procedure for handling hate crimes with the help of a task force in December 1998. For example, a captain in each area is now designated as hate crimes coordinator, and hate crimes are tracked by a special LAPD computer data base, says Tamar Galatzan, the Anti-Defamation League’s Western States associate counsel, who was a task force member.

When Furrow struck, at around 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, the city’s response was swift. Within minutes, officers and rescue personnel were at the scene. Numerous security-related meetings were scheduled between Jewish officials and high-ranking LAPD officials, says LAPD Cmdr. David Kalish (see sidebar). And within hours, patrols were stepped up at Jewish institutions around the city.

“Right after the shooting, before we even had a chance to call the police, LAPD had a car stationed downstairs,” says Chaim Cunin of Chabad. “Officers came up every hour asking us if everything was OK, and they did the same at other Chabad houses around town.”

The bad news for police and Jewish Angelenos is that hate crime is harder to track than ever. Perpetrators no longer tend to belong to groups, which may be infiltrated by law enforcement, says Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They are individuals, often acting alone, who sometimes travel out of state to commit violence. And there is no telling how many people are influenced by the more than 2,000 racist Internet Web sites, says the center’s Rick Eaton.

The LAPD is analyzing the latest trends, but, Kalish says, “we have to keep this incident in perspective. Furrow was a lone individual who committed a heinous crime, but he is now in custody, and we have no specific information of any threats of future violence.”
More News:Following the North Valley JCC shooting, meetings, a Sunday rally and expressions of support help the community heal.
How the Jewish Federation responded as the North Valley shooting unfolded.
At synagogues throughout L.A., a Sabbath of prayer and support;
1,000 people gathered at the Unity Rally held Sunday, Aug. 15, at Cal State Northridge
Assessing the real danger.
Commander David Kalish; Paramedic Todd Carb.
Editor’s Corner–Rob Eshman, Managing Editor: Reaction and Overreaction.
Commentary–Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson:On Being Targeted.