In mid-October, two young Latino males enjoying a Friday night together in the Tower District in Fresno were brutally assaulted by a man who apparently did not like the fact that they were holding hands. Robert Calderon, one of the men beaten, suffered a broken nose, two black eyes, a horrible gash on his brow and sore ribs.
The Fresno Police Department (FPD) is investigating this assault and battery as a hate crime. It’s been three long months, and this case is still open and unresolved. The perpetrator remains on the loose.
In an emotional Facebook post a day after the attack, Calderon pleaded, “We were attacked for loving each other.”
Calderon is a gay man—a proud one at that—who does not hesitate to confess his love to the world for his partner, Lucas Flores, who he was holding hands with that fateful evening.
“There is no doubt I love this man,” says Calderon. “I wouldn’t let the attackers get to him…I will always love and protect him.”
In his Facebook post, Calderon said that his partner “has taken care of me since last night, buying me bandages and wound spray. Giving me tissue for my bloody nose. Holding my hand and crying with me. I couldn’t ask for a better man. He takes care of my body, heart, mind and soul…I love you Lucas.”
With love like this, who could possibly hate?
Apparently there are some. Hate is in the air. We see it and we feel it, but until we experience it with a bloody face, we might not appreciate its nasty stench. It’s the kind of thing that, left unfettered and free, morphs into violence—which is what Calderon and Flores experienced, unfortunately.
This type of hate leads to murders and killings. We know from history that this kind of unchecked hate is even fuel for genocide.
Yet, we live in a “free” country, so shouldn’t we be able to hate who we want?
Yes and no. Yes, we live in a country that protects freedom of speech. So, in that sense, the U.S. Constitution allows for hate speech when it does not affect the civil rights of others.
But, clearly, no one likes to be berated or belittled, especially because of one’s identity. It’s just not right. And simply because this type of “hate” (speech) is legal, that does not make it less hurtful or traumatic.
Certainly, hate speech is distasteful and immature and really has no place in a civilized society—yet it is legal until it crosses a certain line. Sometimes hate speech leads to “hate incidents,” which are occurrences that, although perhaps racist, sexist or homophobic, are still not hate crimes. When hate incidents start to threaten a person or property, however, they might become hate crimes.
A “hate crime” is a crime perpetrated on an actual or perceived federally protected social group. It can be done to a single person or even to an individual who is simply associated with a protected social group but not a part of it. The key component here, however, is that an actual crime must be committed for a hate crime to occur.
As in the case of Calderon and Flores, a verifiable crime occurred because they were physically assaulted. And given that the crime was evidently motivated by the attacker’s bias against homosexuals—a federally protected group—this crime is being investigated as a hate crime (whether it actually is one will be determined in court if the attacker is ever apprehended).
Hate crimes, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, “are not just attacks on individual innocent people—they are attacks on our communities and the entire State.”
The federal government has been prosecuting hate crimes across the nation since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. At the federal level, seven distinct categories are protected under the law: race/color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender/sex, gender identity and disability.
California needs to upgrade its list to match. Currently, all but gender identity are protected in the Golden State (by comparison, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, among other more progressive states, have laws protecting an individual’s chosen gender identity).
South Carolina, Wyoming and Montana, on the other hand, are among the most unprotected states, with no laws protecting gender/sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability categories. Incredibly, South Carolina still has no protection on the books for hate crimes perpetrated on the basis of race/color, religion or national origin.
In the city of Fresno, there is no dedicated police unit assigned to hate crimes. Although that might not look too good for the police department, it’s actually a good thing because it means we don’t have a high enough frequency of such crimes to merit one.
The city has five policing districts, and each district has a group of detectives assigned to investigate common crimes. For serious crimes such as homicide, there is one central group of detectives who work those cases.
The immediate focus for the FPD is on the crime, not on whether it was done due to hate against a protected category or group. However, if a crime is found to be motivated because of or perpetrated in hate against one of the protected California categories or groups, there could be penalty enhancements and increased sentences, especially for aggravated circumstances.
In California, in addition to our Penal Code provisions, we have two civil code statutes that provide further protection from and remedies for hate crimes: the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1976 and the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, which ultimately became law in 1988. Restraining orders, attorney’s fees, injunctive and/or equitable relief, damages and a civil penalty of $25,000 can be awarded to victims of hate crimes in our state.
This is good news for Calderon if his attacker is ever arrested.
But, until then, should he and other homosexuals in the Tower District—a place known to be a safe haven for gays and queers here in the Valley—feel safe in their own community?
Sgt. Diana Vega, assistant public information officer with the FPD, believes so. “I can tell you, we don’t tolerate hate crimes here in Fresno. When a crime is reported, we will investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone that threatens the security of anybody in our community.”
Vega encourages anyone who believes themselves to have been a victim of hate speech, a hate incident or a hate crime to report that to the police.
“Oftentimes people don’t know the difference, but we want people to feel comfortable coming to us, letting us investigate,” Vega said.
“The reality is, if we are not aware of the situation, it’s as if it never occurred. So, we need to know about these incidents if they are happening.”
Yet, what if it’s your own City Council member spewing hate?
Council Member Garry Bredefeld, representing District 6 in northeast Fresno, has been vocal on social media condemning drag shows, which has incited his base to threaten gay and queer community members at their events. In early December, a family-friendly drag show at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church was met with raucous Proud Boy protestors.
Bredefeld stirred up the pot by accusing the event planners of “evil efforts to sexualize our children.”
Event organizer Isabel Ramos doesn’t agree. “I just feel like…they’re spreading more hate. That’s not what my event is about. My event is about acceptance and love and creating a safe space for our children.”
Bredefeld is unrepentant and won’t rest until violence ensues, it seems. “I wrote what I did on Facebook, and I stand behind every word,” he said at a mid-December City Council meeting. “Just as I opposed the family-friendly drag show at the zoo, I opposed it at the church—and I will continue to speak out.”
When will Bredefeld stop “speaking out” on federally protected gender identity or queer issues? When will the community demand that his hate speech be silenced to prevent hate incidents? When will authorities recognize that Bredefeld is inciting future violent hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community?
Hate is in the air, and it has to be stopped now before it’s too late.