'Systemic change': Santa Clara County's new Hate Crimes Task Force unveils ambitious plan

SANTA CLARA CO., Calif. (KGO) -- A new task force in Santa Clara County is unveiling ambitious plans.

"What we really need to do is make systemic change. And that first step is trying to get our arms around what is really happening. This is not a task force, where we just talk about traumatic experiences," said San Jose councilmember Maya Esparza, co-chair of Santa Clara County's new task force.

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Her co-chair, Supervisor Cindy Chavez proposed a task force to address hate crimes following the mass shooting in 2019 at the Gilroy Garlic festival.

The role is personal to Esparza whose nephew, 6-year-old Stephen Romero, was shot and killed at the shooting.

"His mother and grandmother were also shooting, they were wounded in that shooting. And many in our community felt that that was a result of race or racial hatred and if there's a way for us to prevent that from happening in our community, we need to do it," she added, " All too often, it takes people getting hurt or getting killed to capture our attention. Feeling bad doesn't change a single thing. We need to take some action."

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At the inaugural meeting, experts weighed in on the importance of not just tracking hate crimes but also hate incidents, like hate speech and bullying. It's something San Jose Police Department is proud to already be doing.

"Even if it doesn't rise to the level of a crime, we can see these incidents and where they occur," says acting San Jose Police Chief David Tindall.
"I've experienced, you know, racism and hate speech. I don't report it every time I see it, right? How many of us do?" asked Esparsa

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Tracking hate incidents, developing school programs, using existing laws to protect against gender-based hate crimes, all part of an ambitious 5 point plan that the task force is determined to accomplish this year. The team is made of more than a dozen stakeholders from law enforcement to community leaders.

Esparza pointed to the recent cases violence against Asians as a perfect example of why the Task Force is so important.

"I think it's a wake up call for a lot of folks in the Bay Area that think not here. Well, yeah, here. It's happening here," she said.

The next meeting takes place in March, on the agenda is announcing a working plan to help schedule the year's action items.
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