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DA Press Release: Offensive Speech Not Deemed Hate Crime


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July 16, 2002

NOTE: The San Francisco District Attorney's office recently issued the following press release

Public Information Office
District Attorney
City and County of San Francisco
850 Bryant St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 553-1596

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- July 16, 2001 -- After a prolonged investigation, the San Francisco District Attorney's office has decided not to pursue charges against demonstrators involved in a series of incidents at San Francisco State University last spring.

"Some very offensive things were said," San Francisco District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, says, "but we found no evidence that specific laws were broken."

Among the demonstrations brought to the attention of the district attorney was one on May 7th, which involved a rally by San Francisco Hillel, a student organization. In the days after the demonstration, the president of SFSU received more than 1000 e-mails from around the world, most complaining that the university had failed to protect Jewish students and that no legal action was taken against students who violated the law.

On May 28th, the San Francisco State University Police delivered to the San Francisco DA's office police reports on two individuals. Several days later a third individual was implicated. The university asked the DA to look into filing formal complaints.

Alleged crimes included violations of Penal Code 594, Vandalism. Penal Code 422.6, Interference with exercise of civil rights; damaging property. Penal Code 415.5(a), Disturbance of peace of school, community college, university or state university.

The first legal complaint requested by SFSU police was against a SFSU student alleged to have taken an Israeli flag off a podium during one of the demonstrations, stomped on the flag and then kicked it off a stage. Whatever was done, the flag was not defaced, damaged or destroyed, which are standards for a crime. Moreover, the complaining party, San Francisco Hillel, denied any damage to the flag, and therefore no charges could be filed.

Another complaint requested involved a student who was alleged to have said to two Jewish students, in effect, "All you Jews should die." "I'd kill you if I could." And, "Hitler didn't do a good enough job, he should [have] exterminated you all when he had the chance."

The exchange took place at a distance of 10 to 15 feet. No arrests were made, and no suspect was identified at the time. Several people who heard the comments were later interviewed by SFSU police.

Although these statements were highly offensive, and spoken on school grounds, none of the people addressed said that they had been provoked to an immeidate violent reaction. A woman stated that she had been "alarmed at the words," but that the student "wouldn't get a response from her."

Another witness characterized the incident as a "verbal assault," and said that as offensive as it was he was not provoked.

Nor did it seem to witnesses that the student had the ability to carry out a personal threat.

A third witness "felt that the [student] should be suspended or expelled" for the offensive statements, but that the only reaction they elicited from him was a request for the student to put what was said "on tape."

A fourth witness stated that the student "did not use any violent or provoking words" and that his response was to "turn the other cheek like we always do."

No one who heard the student's comments said that they were accompanied by force or a threat of force.

In addition, the circumstances under which the student was identified as a suspect were irregular. She was not identified at the time of the May 7th incident, but rather two weeks later. Some witnesses could not identify her conclusively.

In a separate complaint, a SFSU student said another student called her a "sharmotta" which can be translated as "whore" in Arabic, and that this was followed by, "Go fuck your camels."

As in the complaint against the first student, the offensive statements were not accompanied by force or a threat of force; nor did the second student seem capable of carrying out her threat since she was being restrained. After the incident, at least one person she allegedly addressed couldn't identify her.

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Last modified July 16, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs