The specter of a young Mexican man stumbling across a North County field with his arms and legs bound with duct tape and a paper bag bearing the words "No Mas Aqui" over his head is frightening. The violence and humiliation of the message in crude Spanish, "Don't Come Back," smacks of Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi "skinhead" mentality.
Police in Carlsbad say they do not regard the beating and kidnaping of 26-year-old Candido Salas as racially motivated. They say the merchants they arrested in connection with the crime were "frustrated" because of frequent shoplifting, even though police say they think Salas was just buying a cup of coffee.
But what happened to Salas has some of the marks of a hate crime, which the state attorney general defines as "an act or attempted act to cause physical injury, emotional suffering or property damage, which is or appears to be motivated, all or in part, by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation." This attack should be of concern to all San Diegans, especially those in North County, where relations between Anglos and Latino migrant workers are often tense or hostile.
No community wants to think of itself as tolerant of hate crimes. The vast majority of people find them abhorrent. The words bring to mind the Howard Beach murder in New York or the killing of an Ethiopian man in Portland, Ore.
But hate crimes are on the rise across the country, and San Diego is no exception.
Police documented 147 hate crimes in San Diego County from November, 1988, through September, including the deaths of two migrants who were shot along a rural stretch of Black Mountain Road in North City West. Two teen-agers were arrested; one has pleaded guilty and the other awaits trial.
Although what happened to Candido Salas was far less serious, migrant advocates say it is an example of a rising tide of harassment and violence against migrants.
Crime against migrants, whether racially motivated or not, traditionally has been under-reported because of the victims' fear of deportation. But Candido Salas came forward, even though he is in the United States illegally, because he wanted to help stop such violence.
That is an important step.
But elected officials, law enforcement officials and other community leaders must also make clear, by what they say and what they do, that crimes motivated by prejudice and bigotry will not be tolerated.
Actions or words that even imply tolerance of bigotry, such as the phony derogatory memo about illegal aliens posted on the bulletin board of the Poway sheriff's station last year, or a Carlsbad detective saying that what happened to Salas, while wrong, is a "two-way street," may validate prejudices and subtly encourage violence and harassment.