Manhattan Beach family believes suspicious fire was a hate crime

Manhattan Beach family fears they were targeted by an arsonist for being black

A black Manhattan Beach family is asking police to investigate a suspected arson attack on their home as a hate crime.

In the middle of the night Wednesday, someone placed a gasoline-soaked rubber tire at the front door of the Clinton family's three-story home and set it on fire. The subsequent blaze ignited the door and scorched the home's facade.

Fire officials called the incident suspicious, and police are investigating.

The Clinton family said they do not know why anyone would want to target them other than because they are black.

"I'm sorry to draw this conclusion, but I'm an African-American living in the United States and I think it's race-related," said Malissia Clinton, 46. "I think there's a rotten apple or two in our community. We need to catch the person that did this so we can move on."

Clinton said that police have been supportive but are hesitant to label the case as a hate crime.

"I don't know how you determine that unless someone scrawls the N-word across your door," she said.

On Friday, Manhattan Beach police announced that federal authorities were aiding in their investigation and looking at all possible motives, including race.

African Americans represent only about 1% of Manhattan Beach's 35,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census' most recent survey.

The Clintons have lived in Manhattan Beach for 11 years but only moved into their current house in December 2013. The man who sold them the home, Joseph Mogel, 65, said there were never any problems before.

But shortly after moving to 11th Street, someone placed drug paraphernalia on the Clintons' property. The family filed a police report to document the incident, Clinton said. Another time, someone dumped trash in front of their home. Neither incident seemed significant at the time, she said.

Then came Wednesday's fire.

"So when I heard about this, I'm thinking No. 1, this is a hate crime. No. 2, it's someone on the block," Mogel said. "It's a solvable crime. We need to get this guy and run this guy — and anybody who thinks this way — out of town."

The incident has made the Clintons consider selling their house.

"Frankly, we're thinking twice. Safety first," Clinton said. "I have two boys and I have every reason to be upset. I can't afford the next incident."

On Friday night, Sash Ramaswami, a friend of the Clintons, helped organized a vigil at a nearby shopping center to show support. An Indian-American, she said her family moved away from Manhattan Beach in 2011 after their son was bullied in school because of his nationality.

"It's an affluent white town where people don't want to talk about this stuff," she said. "If we don't say something and do something now, it won't be investigated."

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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