Hate Speech and Crimes

Francisco Samaniego was caught on camera attacking two women doing outreach about Palestine at PorchFest. Photo by Amy Oakley  
Francisco Samaniego was caught on camera attacking two women doing outreach about Palestine at PorchFest. Photo by Amy Oakley  

Genocide and mass atrocities are commonly preceded and accompanied by “dangerous speech”—hate speech that has the potential to influence people to accept, condone or commit violence against targeted groups. Dangerous speech is consequently considered both a warning sign and an instrument of group-targeted violence.

Israeli government officials have said that they are “fighting human animals.” They talk of making Gaza a “slaughterhouse” and of “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth.”

Sadly, some Americans support this hateful rhetoric and commit hate crimes that target Palestinians and their supporters on U.S. campuses (such as UCLA) and at demonstrations.

A recent violent attack in Fresno’s Tower District against three women staffing an informational booth at PorchFest about the Gaza genocide is an another such incident. The women were there to educate the public and to garner support for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, the American public does not know the extent of the mass murder of children in Gaza and of the dire circumstances for the people there.

Al Jazeera has a link called “Know their names: Palestinian children killed in Israeli attacks.” We must know their names. They are not just numbers, they are precious children.

The Al Jazeera link states that “the Gaza Strip is a graveyard for thousands of children, the United Nations has said. Since Oct. 7, Israeli attacks have killed at least 15,000 children, according to Palestinian officials. That is one Palestinian child killed every 15 minutes, or about one out of every 100 children in the Gaza Strip.

“Thousands more are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead. The surviving children, who have endured the traumatic impact of multiple wars, have spent their lives under the shadow of an Israeli blockade, influencing every aspect of their existence from birth.”


Out of respect for the dead and with love, say just a few of their names: Suzan Iyad Muhammad Al-Ashi, 0 years; Khahlil Ibrahim Fawzi Al-Nafar, 1; Hani Ahmed Rabhi Netil, 2;  Bana Iyad Gamal Nasr, 3; Juri Rasmi Jabr Sobeih, 4; and Dina Abdullah Khader Musa, 5; and more than 15,000 others.

The three young women staffing the information booth, Zahra, Mel and Lana, were attacked for their advocacy of Palestinian children, basic human rights and resistance to our government’s complicity in genocide.

The alleged attacker, Francisco Samaniego, has been arrested and charged. Witnesses stated that Samaniego confronted several individuals who were attending PorchFest, was very vocal and, during the confrontation, assaulted three women and took a cellphone, later throwing it on the ground, rendering it unusable.

Samaniego has been charged with one felony count of second-degree robbery and three misdemeanor counts of battery. He faces a maximum of five years in state prison if convicted of these charges.

The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, however, declined to file a hate crime. The DA’s Office concluded that the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Samaniego committed a hate crime.

“It is our ethical obligation as prosecutors to file charges where the facts of the case can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt with the applicable elements of the law,” stated the DA’s Office. “In this specific case and after careful review of the reports, the facts do not meet that burden.

“Because a majority of the statements were directed at Hamas, the derogatory statements that were allegedly made by Samaniego referring to Palestine and Palestinian people, while despicable, are protected by the First Amendment.”

The three victims of the assault never mentioned Hamas, and eyewitnesses verify that the assailant repeatedly verbally attacked Palestinians, Muslims, “Arabs” and their supporters.

One of those attacked, Zahra, described the incident. “I was approached by the assailant at approximately 3 p.m. I was alone manning a booth providing information about Palestine and the current genocide that’s happening in Gaza.

“I was alone with my two children, my six-year-old son Adam and my two-year-old son Noah. [They] were with me during the entire period of the assault and the incident.

“Francisco [the assailant] came up to me demanding a cookie; we had cookies there. He said, ‘I’m going to have a cookie,’ in a very abrasive and direct manner. I [said], ‘Sure, you can have a cookie. Are you interested in what I have to offer? Are you wanting to talk or learn about the situation that’s happening in Palestine?’

“He then started his verbal attack. He said that I deserve to get raped. He said I should go back to where I came from. [I was dressed conservatively and wearing a hijab.]

“He started talking badly about the Islamic religion, saying how all Muslims and Arabs are terrorists. He said that  if I was in Palestine or in any other Middle Eastern country I would get raped and that I deserve to get raped.

“He went further and said that he would kill me and anybody that looked like me or stood for any of my ideas, like a free Palestine and to stop bombing the children in Gaza. I felt threatened and taken back, and I was in fear for my safety and my children’s safety.

“Two women finally approached after 20 minutes and extended their hands outward toward me. They said, ‘We’re gonna stay there with you; we feel the energy.’ He turns to them as soon as they approach, and he starts attacking them verbally as well.”

One of these women was Zahra’s friend, Lana. “As I approached the booth where Zahra was standing, [Samaniego] was at her side, very close to her,” Lana recalls. “I came in between them and I didn’t realize the level of vitriol that he was yelling.

“I said, ‘Hi sir, how can I help you?’ and he immediately responded by saying ‘what are you doing here, why are you here, you’re a terrorist supporter. If you went to Gaza, they would kill you gay people.’

“So,  I didn’t say much to him. I said I don’t feel like you’re here to have a conversation. I said I don’t feel comfortable. I’m gonna ask you to leave.

“I have my arm pushing his body against his arm while trying to create space. We call this bracing and creating space and self-defense as [the assailant is] forcing himself onto [Zahra].

“I felt my adrenaline rise, and I threatened to call the police. I started to open my phone, but I was getting so fragile that I couldn’t. [Our friend] Mel walked up and she could tell that obviously something’s happening.”

Mel continues describing the encounter. “I told [Samaniego] I’m gonna call the police if you don’t leave. He [then] threw water in my face and he grabbed me by the hair and he hit me with the cup. He grabbed me by the hair and dragged me down to my knees and across the lawn [for about 4–5 feet].

“At some point, he put me in a choke hold and I don’t remember that, like I genuinely don’t remember. I think I blacked out for a second, and then I saw that [Zahra and Lana] were going toward the street.

“I started running, and I realized my glasses were gone. They were lost at some point, and [maybe] he snatched them when he grabbed my hair. I am nearsighted and can’t see without my glasses.”

As the assailant followed Mel to the street, Zahra and Lana ran to her assistance. Video captured by bystanders shows the assailant throwing Lana’s phone to the ground and repeatedly punching the three women. Fortunately, by defending themselves, the three avoided serious injury. At this point, bystanders intervened to break up the altercation.

Lori Garcia, a friend of the three women and a member of the Palestine Liberation Group, made the following statement.

“The DA’s dropping the hate crime charge sends a message to our Muslim and Arab residents that they are not safe in the city of Fresno while wearing their cultural or religious clothing.

“If FPD (the Fresno Police Department) charged the assailant with a hate crime and violation of civil rights, the evidence is clear: the initial victim was wearing a hijab, keffiyeh, and standing in front of the Palestinian flag. How much more evidence does one need to prove a hate crime? They were assaulted for being visibly Muslim/Arab.

“The assailant has a right of speech, so he has the right to say whatever he chooses; however, he does not have the right to physically attack whoever he wants. What about these women’s rights to safety?

“The victims were simply hosting an education booth to teach others about the history of Palestine. Victim one was accompanied by her two young children.

“Imagine the trauma that the six-year-old feels; he witnessed his mother being verbally berated and then violently assaulted while proudly wearing her cultural and religious articles. This attack will stick with him forever and sends a message to the Muslim Arab community that Fresno is a hostile place to raise a family.

“Along with the recent anti-Palestinian rant by a [Fresno City] Council member, Arabs and Muslims are feeling disconnected here. Fresno took a giant step backward into history. We’re in a resurgence of post-9/11 Islamophobia.”

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, visit cavshate.org.


  • Bob McCloskey

    Bob McCloskey is an activist and a reporter for the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at bobmccloskey06@gmail.com.

    View all posts
2 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x