It’s New Year’s Eve, and everything is full of promise. Champagne flows and resolutions are made. After an evening of revelry, one couple heads out into the night. In the crisp air of the brand new year, three men ambush the pair. They shout bigoted slurs as they pummel the couple to the pavement.
This specific couple was comprised of two men, and this specific incident took place on the corner of Chapala and Ortega streets in downtown Santa Barbara. Not in China or Saudi Arabia, but one block from the mall at Paseo Nuevo. And lest anyone think this was not a case of gay bashing, cell phone video of the assault revealed the magnitude of the homophobic slurs. In fact, when police released said video to get the public’s help in apprehending the suspects, the audio was removed. It was that derogatory, that incendiary.
In the wake of the attack, Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF)—Santa Barbara County’s gay resource center and HIV/AIDS service provider—organized a press conference, followed by a march from City Hall to the scene of the crime. As we walked through Santa Barbara’s immaculate downtown, the people in the crowd murmured their surprise that such a hateful attack happened in our hyper-inclusive community. I even overheard one woman say that the assailants must be from out of town.
Santa Barbara is idyllic for many reasons, like our 75-degree Christmases and the fact that our city sits where the mountains meet the sea. We have eight farmers’ markets every week, and community leaders dedicated to promoting tolerance and peace. But Santa Barbara is no Mayberry; after all, we are a real city with real people. Which means real problems.
Hate-fueled crime springs from the well of ignorance and intolerance. And, sadly, that water supply runs across the globe. To think Santa Barbara is immune to such sentiments simply is another form of ignorance—one that may not leave scars, but certainly impedes growth. If we fool ourselves into thinking hatred doesn’t exist here, we won’t be dedicated to doing the hard work of talking about it and addressing its roots. And without that conversation, we can’t hope to prevent it from inciting violence.
At the beginning of 2011, PPF instigated sensitivity training with the Santa Barbara Police Department. The organization partnered with another nonprofit, Just Communities, to create the LGBT Sensitivity and Awareness Trainings. In fall 2011, the entire SBPD underwent the orientation.
One of the detectives assigned to the hate crime case approached PPF’s Executive Director David Selberg at the recent press conference. The detective explained that, as a result of the sensitivity training, he better understood the nuances of working with a gay couple involved in an assault. By acknowledging the need to be prepared in the event of hate-induced crime, Selberg facilitated the ability to be prepared. Santa Barbara may be a community that doesn’t tolerate hate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared in the event it crops up.
These sensitivity trainings are one example of working to combat ignorance on a large scale. The passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, which expands the federal hate crime law to include provisions about sexual orientation, or the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy are other instances of this type of macro work.
But sometimes the most revolutionary—and effective—work happens on a micro level in our daily lives with our neighbors, at the market, and while picking up the kids from school. Raising awareness is what conquers ignorance in the long run, and it starts by talking about your partner at work or holding hands as you walk through your neighborhood.
After we walked to the scene of the crime, Rev. Julia Hamilton of the Unitarian Society led us in a moment of silence. She told us to hold hands with our neighbor, explaining it was a simple gesture that symbolized we should never be ashamed of who we are.
It was in that moment that Santa Barbara showed it was no place for hate.
On Sunday, January 8, come out to the Wildcat Bar & Lounge (15 W. Ortega St.) to show your support for the victims. There will be a $5 cover, with proceeds going toward a reward fund to help catch the three attackers. If you can’t come out Sunday night but still want to contribute, visit any Santa Barbara Bank & Trust branch and make a donation to the LoveBeforeHate fund.