Standing Against Hate and Discriminatory Acts in Orange County
On Friday, October 25, 2019, an incident occurred during a football game between Segerstrom and Marina High Schools in Orange County, in which two student-generated signs with racial undertones were displayed near the entrance of the stadium, aimed at students and families of Segerstrom High School. Commendably, the Santa Ana Unified School District and the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD) addressed this incident immediately. HBUHSD and Marina High School accepted responsibility, and immediately apologized to the students, families and staff of Segerstrom High School. This was a necessary and prudent action taken by both administrations, and yet, the incident will reverberate for time to come.
Discrimination is an issue that must continually be addressed at every level of society in a constant attempt to ensure that displays and acts of hate are denounced, rectified, and not repeated. I am committed to helping our community resolve any and all issues of discrimination -- both blatant and those less explicit. Whenever differences between us are used in a negative attempt to divide us as a community, we must stamp them out.
The most recent incident is indicative of a larger problem that has manifested itself in recent years. Similar occurrences have been reported in 2019 at schools, athletic events, and elsewhere involving young adults:
- In March, racist activity was filmed at a party involving students of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
- In August of this year, there was an event involving Pacifica High School in the Grove Unified School District.
- And a month later, in September, at a football game in predominantly white Aliso Viejo, the visitors from a predominantly Latino high school in Santa Ana were met with signs of “Build the Wall” and “We Love White,” according to the Santa Ana principal.
These incidents are alarming, and unfortunately, only include those that have generated broad media and/or internet attention. The problem may be actually be worse and more pervasive.
If nothing is done by leaders at all levels, their silence delivers a message of tacit approval, ensuring these events will escalate. Furthermore, these instances appear to be prevalent around our school systems and our youth, who are the most vulnerable to this infestation of ignorance. The fact that young people are either unaware of the harm that these events cause, or worse don’t care, illustrates that community leaders have not adequately educated these young perpetrators. These efforts are obviously not enough.
Early in my career, I worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting skinheads terrorizing an African American family. When I served in the California State Assembly in the early 1990’s, I helped spearhead efforts to stiffen criminal penalties for hate crimes. Those laws increased penalties for people engaging in violent or threatening behavior based on race, gender, religion, age, disabilities or sexual orientation. They also established tougher sentences and higher civil penalties and included provisions for offenders to take ethnic sensitivity classes.
As one of Orange County’s current Senators in the State Legislature, I believe it is imperative that we leaders speak with a strong, unified voice whenever instances of hate occur in the communities we represent and find common ground, build empathy, and promote respect.
With this in mind, our office will be holding neighborhood discussions in the coming weeks and months to foster a sense of unity and acceptance between people from all backgrounds. These discussions will involve community businesses, schools, houses of worship, politicians, children, and members of community organizations of all kinds. Our office is also researching adding stiffer penalties and punishments for incidents in which hate escalates to threatening situations, or acts of violence.
The good news is that more often than not, when hate flares up, good people rise up in response. We will address this problem, and stand up to promote tolerance and inclusion. When we come together in unity to eradicate hate, our voices are louder. If we are loud enough in our messages of unity, the young men and women of our community will hear them, learn from them, and embrace them. If we begin celebrating our commonalities and praising our differences, then we will promote a safe place for our students and our community at large.
We live, work, and lead at a time when polarization and hate speech is the highest it has been in the past 50 years. The confrontations and rhetoric that have occurred nationally, but more importantly in Orange County, are something that we have the power to change. Please join me in nonpartisan discussions to find common ground, build empathy, and promote respect. It is important we come together as a community and celebrate similarities, rather than letting the rhetoric of hate and anger further the divide.
Groups and residents interested in attending upcoming events can find out more about them at https://sd34.senate.ca.gov/contact/updates.
Senator Thomas Umberg represents the 34th Senate District, which includes the cities of Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Alamitos,
Midway City, Orange, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, and Westminster. Umberg is a retired
U.S. Army Colonel and former federal prosecutor. He and his wife,
Brigadier General Robin Umberg, USA (ret.), live in Orange County.