Monday, September 15, 2008

Local man victim of hate crime


Joel Rodriguez-Flores had been called names before. At 23 and openly gay, the sharp ringing of derogatory terms has at one time or another resounded loud and clear from the streets of Isla Vista and Santa Barbara.
Such harassment, he said, “Happens all the time.”
But that’s as far as it ever went. Just name calling that makes the people and places associated with the slurs seem more like characters on an elementary school playground, where the phrase “sticks and stones break my bones but names never hurt me,” might be heard.

That all changed, however, on the evening of Friday, Sept. 5, when the 23-year-old and a couple of his friends were walking to an acquaintance’s apartment in Isla Vista.
A trio of young men were drinking on the front porch of the building, and as Rodriguez-Flores and his friends approached, the men started in with the usual peppering of words like, “faggot.”
“We weren’t even trying to talk to them or anything,” he said. “There was no provocation on our part.”
Rodriguez-Flores parted ways with his friends to meet someone inside the building. As he did so, he said the men on the porch launched a beer bottle at his friends as they walked away, which shattered at their feet.
Several minutes later, as Rodriguez-Flores was leaving the apartment building, he passed through the group of men, who he said were “drunk.”
As he did so, one of the men yelled, “faggot,” and punched him in the face.
His initial reaction was shock, but the slimly built Rodriguez-Flores was able to do the first and probably best thing that came to mind: run.
As he did so, the man that slugged him in the jaw began chase.
“I just had to outrun him because in these types of incidents, people get seriously injured or killed,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Rodriguez-Flores had the faster feet. Physically, he was doing fine. But that’s not the point.
He said such crimes, hate crimes to be exact, are in some cases more lethal to the psyche of the group of person attacked.
“More than anything it’s about the intimidation,” Rodriguez-Flores said. “They weren’t targeting me as a person, because I’ve never seen these guys. If anyone else had walked by who they thought was gay they could have done the same thing.”
He filed a police report with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. The deputy informed him the incident was clearly a hate crime, a relatively rare occurrence in Santa Barbara County, according to California Department of Justice Web site, that shows only one hate crime was reported in the county in 2007.
But while reporting of such crime may be rare, Rodriguez-Flores believes it’s probably more common than it seems.
“Usually people are used to being treated like crap so they don’t speak up,” he said. “I think sometimes people don’t expect accountability from local authorities or they don’t think it’s serious enough, but it actually happens more than people know.”
And important to note is that whether white, black, gay, Jewish or otherwise, a hate crime, as defined by the California penal code, includes an act based on “perception.”
An excerpt from the penal code states a hate crime “is a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: 1) disability, 2) gender, 3) nationality, 4) race or ethnicity, 5) religion, 6) sexual orientation, 7) association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”
While the number of reported hate crimes in this county appears relatively low, they’re on the rise throughout the state.
About 1,931 hate crime offenses were reported in California in 2007, a 13.5 percent increase over 2006.
Topping the list was hate crimes aimed at black people, which accounted for 498 in 2007, up from 432 the year before. Hate crimes against Jewish people were the second highest and anti homosexual hate crimes were the third highest reported offense at 101 in 2007, up from 57 the year before, a 77.2 percent jump in a single year.
Sgt. Alex Tipolt, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, said no suspects have been arrested for the Sept. 5 hate crime against Rodriguez-Flores.
And if no one is caught and prosecuted, that wouldn’t be surprising, either.
The Department of Justice statistics show that of the 1,931 incidents, only 443 were referred to prosecutors. Of those, 330 were filed as hate crimes and a mere 110 of these ended with hate crime convictions.
Tipolt said he had little information about hate crimes and subsequent prosecutions in the county, but said the incident with Rodriguez-Flores is the first of this year and is being investigated.
He said the Sheriff’s Department handles hate crime investigations the same way it does every other.
“We take any incident, regardless of whether it’s a hater crime or any crime seriously,” he said. “All cases are taken seriously and investigated to the fullest.”
Though Tipolt said he isn’t sure if hate crime incidents are higher in the Isla Vista area compared to other parts of the county, Rodriguez-Flores, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2007, seems to think so.
“I think there’s some concentration of it in IV,” he said.
The seaside college community is notorious for its hard-partying ways, which often leads to assaults and other alcohol-related offenses, but apparently few, if any are reported as hate crimes.
Whether that’s the result of fear, or some other unknown factor is unclear. Whatever it is, Rodriguez-Flores said he plans to bring attention to the issue, and speak up when others won’t.
“It’s something that I’ve always been aware of,” he said. “It’s given me the motivation to want to do something to change that culture.
“Nobody should be exposed to that type of violence and intimidation.”


Patricia said...

I feel really bad. Nobody deserves such barbaric treatment. But i disagree with the penal code. Although noone should hate another person, I don't think it should be illegal to hate someone based solely on someone's bahavior. Race, gender, and nationality are things which people are born with an cannot change; fundamentaly should be protected under equality clauses. If i were to make hateful comments to someone because they were Bush supporters and/or was a republican it should be protected under the 1st ammendment! My analogies could go on and on about orientation, preference and behavior. I have absolutely nothing against people who are gay, i just disagree with the hate crime law.

Joel said...

I'm not sure what behavior you're talking about. It's not like I was doing anything particularly "homosexual" when I was assaulted. In any case, attraction to persons of the same sex/gender--or the opposite, for that matter--is not a behavior; it is a fundamental part of human nature. You can certainly choose to lie to yourself and the rest of the world about it, but you don't choose whom you feel love (or other things) for. Same-sex attraction and love are as old as humanity itself.

Also, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment; violence is not. Throwing a punch or a bottle at someone is not free speech; it is a violent act, and it shouldn't happen to anyone, not even Bush supporters.

Nick W said...

I agree that the right to hate someone and express that verbally should be protected under the freedom of speech amendment. However, there is a time when it stops becoming a free speech issue and becomes a harassment issue. You have the right to hate me, but I have the right to walk down the street without someone yelling, "faggot" at me every five minutes! We can have a civilized conversation about how you feel my existence is an abomination in your eyes and visa-versa but you do not have the right to make my life miserable and filled with fear.

The hate crime law cannot be used to stifle someone's opinion as long as that opinion is expressed in a non-violent manner. Saying that a hate crime law takes away your right to hate me means you have bought into the anti-gay propaganda saying that creating laws to try and protect gays from lives lived in fear of bodily harm and death takes away your right to 'peacefully hate' us.

All I can say is, I am eternally grateful that Christ was able to show me that He is not the hater...people like you are. From what I have gleaned from reading the Bible cover-to-cover three times is that if you hold hate in your heart, you do not know the spirit of God. God is love and God loves us all.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that Patricia was to saying is that the actions against Joel and his friends was not illegal. I think her point was with the hate crime part. I also have a problem with hate crime laws. Would it be any less of a crime if the thugs actions were random or if they yelled bigot before throwing bottles and punching Joel? This was just plain criminal behavior and the criminals should be prosecuted.


Patricia said...

I knew i would stir things up. First of all I am strongly against things in which are violent, or harrasment. I am merely against comments being said that add additional charges under hate crime code. Violence toward anyone should be prosecuted as such, not as additional charges for being a hate crime. If i beat up someone who i thought was a "hippie" (using this as an example, cuz i consider myself a hippie) and said during the beating..."frickin hippie..take that" should I also be charged in addition to assault and battery, of a hate crime?

Sexual acts are behavior. I am very capable of acting on both a man or a woman. Its my choice. Preference is just that, a preferred choice. Much like i prefer to wear dreadlocks in my hair instead of looking like a Barbie.

PS.. Joel, you deserve NONE of what happened to you. It takes alot of courage to expose and educate the rest of us of such repulsive behavior. Hopefully some of us will learn that violence and harrasment are not tolerated, and that people can be emotional scarred even though they don't realize the result of their actions.

I am merely sharing my disagreement with the legal aspect of the law. These thugs should still recieve their due justice.

Happy Programmer said...

The problem is, the violence committed was not random, it was directed at a person not because of that individual, but because of the group they are associated with, in this case gay people. So the violence directed at him could also be directed at others who happen to be in that group. Hate crime should apply to any violence committed against someone for solely being a member of that group, that is more dangerous as whole than merely targeting an individual. A hate crime is a larger threat to society in general. It spreads fear and terror to all those in the group. So if you treat it as just another crime, it doesn't quite send a message that this won't be tolerated in a larger context.

Pilar Solares said...

I live in Canada, I lived in Mexico City very different places yet acts like these happen everywhere and it can happen to anyone. Violence is something that happens everyday and we are not aware of it or care so much until it happens to us (doesn't matter which way). The thing is, how do we fix it? what do we do against discrimination, sexual harrasment, etc. ? WHAT DO WE DO? Joel I'm very happy you spoke up and I'm very sorry this happened to you, I wish noone to live what you lived. Maybe speaking up will bring awareness, but what else can be done?

Geoffrey J. Gowey said...

The problem you run into with hate crime legislation is that it introduces more bias into the legal system. This country is supposed to view everyone equal in the eyes of the law. However, if a person is a victim of a crime and another person is a victim of the same crime, but the perpetrator of the crime in the second instance is punished more harshly because the victim in the second crime falls into a group of people with more protection then where is the equality? People are currently up in arms over a similar lack of equality in the legal system with the handling of the Heather Lea Hulsey verdict.

Anonymous said...

happy programmer NAILED it on the head. get it straight folks, we have laws against hate crimes for this reason. yes, patricia, if you beat someone up while calling them a hippie, it's a hate crime. and it should stay that way.

Geoffrey J. Gowey said...

If the punishment for ANY crime against ANY individual (regardless of sex, creed, color, etc.) is insufficient to deter then the punishment needs to be revised across the board so that no person needs to fear such treatment at the hands of others. No special cases should exist. If I'm murdered my friends and family will grieve no differently than some one who qualifies for it to be labeled as a "hate crime". By the way, will someone tell me what other types of crimes exist? Anyone caring to disagree please explain to me exactly why some segments of the population qualify for extra protection than others.

We all have a right to by protected by the law. That treatment should be uniform for all persons without exception. None of us should live in fear. If the punishments aren't working then something needs to be done about them, but, considering we have the death penalty for murder and people still kill, I doubt we'll ever find a punishment that will deter all crime or satisfy all people.