Marcelle DuPraw’s beloved 23-year-old nephew was murdered in a hate crime in Oregon five years ago. She still finds it “unbelievable” that someone so vibrant, smart and determined to promote change is “gone — just … gone.” She has taken comfort in the astonishing network of people determined to vanquish what she sees as the “tsunami of hate and bias sweeping our country.” This week in Santa Cruz, DuPraw and others have organized the countywide United Against Hate Week, which offers a full schedule of programming — a “priceless opportunity” for our community to learn from each other.
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In 2017, my 23-year-old nephew, Taliesin Namkai Meche (“Tilly”), was murdered in a hate crime on a train in Portland, Oregon.
He was heading home from work at an environmental consulting firm at the start of Memorial Day weekend and he carried a box of food to give to the homeless man he regularly saw en route home. When an angry and troubled white man started threatening two young women of color, one in a hajib, Taliesin and two other white men stood up to intervene.
Minutes later, Taliesin and another intervener lay dying on the train floor, their necks slashed; the third barely survived. Tilly’s last words: “Tell everyone on the train I love them.”
Five years later, it is still unbelievable — that a young man so present, so full of love, smarts and vision, could be gone — just … gone. Unbelievable that Taliesin’s life was snatched from him so suddenly, so senselessly, so brutally.
Also unbelievable to me was how kind human beings all over the world were as they sought to comfort us and struggle together to come to terms with the threat we are experiencing from the tsunami of hate and bias that is sweeping our country. The Portland community created a touching tribute wall at the train station. The Muslim and Buddhist communities reached out and held us up.
Hate crimes in California increased 32% from 2020 to 2021, according to the California Department of Justice’s 2021 hate crime report. Members of the Black community were the most frequent targets; of 1,763 hate crimes reported in 2021, 513 were perpetrated against Black people. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 177.5% during that one year, and hate crimes related to sexual orientation increased 47.8%.
Luckily, many are working to counter this terrible trend.
Not In Our Town (www.niot.org) is a national anti-hate movement founded by filmmaker Patrice O’Neill. Patrice travels the country documenting how communities are working together to heal from horrific hate crimes, reducing enmity, building bridges across differences and cultivating strength and resilience. When I attended a NIOT meeting in Oakland, the diversity of the group in that living room reflected the plethora of human “targets” at which perpetrators of hate take aim — as well as the diversity of the national coalition giving each other comfort and courage.
When I started exploring the possibility of hosting a screening of one of Patrice’s films in Santa Cruz, the enthusiastic response expanded the idea into an informal countywide collaborative — Santa Cruz County United for Safe and Inclusive Communities (SCCUSIC).
Our mission is to reduce hate and bias activity in our county and strengthen the response when they do occur.
We focused first on organizing countywide participation in United Against Hate Week 2021. We then continued with monthly calls, often with guest presenters, to learn about how hate and bias incidents are currently handled, explore where there might be room for improvement, and assess how SCCUSIC could best help make those improvements. We concluded that our current priorities should be raising awareness about this problem, advocating for systemic improvements, and referring survivors to existing organizations that can help.
Right now, we are focused on engaging our community in United Against Hate Week 2022 activities now until Sunday.
There will be free online bystander trainings, a workshop on how to have tough conversations, a youth-focused panel, and a screening of Patrice O’Neill’s latest film, “Repairing the World,” about how Pittsburgh pulled together in the aftermath of the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Registration links for all of these — and more — can be found at The Resource Center for Nonviolence website and in the Santa Cruz County United Against Hate school toolkit, assembled by our county office of education.
This week offers an important opportunity for community conversations about hate and bias, to process what we are seeing and experiencing, and to get ideas for how to have important follow-up conversations that might be needed when the community is traumatized (e.g., by the recent active shooter hoax at Santa Cruz High School). It is an opportunity to foster empathy and appreciation for differences, rather than a fear of them, and to learn skills for intervening when you see someone engaging in hateful behavior.
It is an opportunity to learn about resources available to help survivors of hate and bias events, and it is a truly priceless opportunity to make meaningful connections with others from different walks of life — arguably the most potent antidote to hate and bias.
Marcelle DuPraw is a UC Santa Cruz graduate and the founder of Santa Cruz County United for Safe and Inclusive Communities. She is a public policy mediator with a doctorate in conflict analysis and resolution. She leads federal consensus-building projects through the National Center on Environmental Conflict Resolution and facilitates state and local consensus-building projects through her business, Collaborative Choices.