When Ventura County NAACP President John Hatcher emerged from his residence last week and discovered his garage door painted with racial slurs, he was sure the vandalism was no mere child’s prank.
“The hate is growing, particularly in Ventura County,” said Hatcher, who says he has been targeted by racial bigots for years . “They say, ‘You should go back to Africa. We want a pure white race.’ ”
The attack on Hatcher’s Oxnard residence was one of a dozen incidents of violence or vandalism directed at racial and religious minority groups that have been reported to Ventura County authorities this year.
While law enforcement officials describe the level of such hate crimes in the county as relatively minor, some black and Jewish leaders who have been the target of such attacks say they believe the problem might be greater than many authorities suspect.
In Hatcher’s view, there is an under-reporting of hate crimes in the county.
He said some crimes go unreported because victims do not know the identity of their assailants and believe police will never find the culprits. He admits he has not reported all the hate mail and calls he receives.
People “feel it’s a waste of time,” Hatcher said. “Why should you report something that police can’t do anything about anyway?”
Among the dozen hate crimes reported this year, one of the most serious involved a black member of the Ventura College basketball team who was assaulted by a known skinhead in January. The attacker was arrested and jailed.
In another incident in July, the Temple Beth Torah in Ventura was defaced with the letters “ZOG,” in reference to Zionist Official Government, an anti-Semitic term used by white supremacists.
The incidents early in the year appeared to reinforce an analysis last year by Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, who expressed concern about “a growing pattern” of hate crimes in the county.
In recent months, however, law enforcement officials say white-supremacist activities have actually been on the decline in the county, partly because of arrests of hate-crime perpetrators.
Racist literature has all but disappeared from mailboxes, car windshields and local high school campuses where they were once regularly dispersed, police officials say.
“As far as crimes go, they’re on the downswing,” Detective Jeff Killion of the Ventura Police Department said.
Police now take credit for the decline in hate crimes, saying the arrest of key leaders, aggressive patrols against vandalism and increased vigilance of groups responsible for hate crimes has driven the perpetrators away.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has made a point of documenting neo-Nazi activity around the country, in a report released early this year also said there has been a decline in hate crimes in Ventura County.
Ventura and Simi Valley have the most cases linked to hate groups.
A group in Simi Valley uses the name “SVH Skins” in its graffiti, police said. Vandals in November spray-painted cars at an apartment building with “KKK.”
But since the arrest by Simi Valley police of three teen-agers in November, 1989, for spray-painting racist graffiti at Simi Valley High School, “there’s been a significant decrease in the visibility of skinheads and their graffiti,” Lt. Bob Klamser said.
Two Ventura groups linked to hate crimes call themselves the Midtown Skins and the Skinhead Dogs.
Killion said the Skinhead Dogs’ activities declined in Ventura when two of its leaders were jailed. A leader of the Skinhead Dogs, Scott Porcho, 22, was imprisoned on felony battery charges for attacking another man at a beach party, but returned to Ventura two months ago.
Michael Wozney, 21, was arrested in January and pleaded guilty to attacking a black member of a Ventura College basketball team with a bottle. He was released from a work-furlough program Oct. 15.
A third group, the Ventura Boot Boys has ceased to exist, but the group was a spinoff of a Santa Barbara group and was never very active in Ventura County, Killion said.
Nevertheless, police are reluctant to call the war on hate crimes over.
In Ventura, less than a dozen skinheads are still living in the area, Killion said. Skinheads are talking about forming an organization that would unite individual groups around the county, he said.
“Any time you get two or more of them together, and they get on a binge of deviant behavior, anything can happen,” he said.
Klamser declined to say how many Simi Valley youths are still active in skinhead organizations, but he characterized them as juveniles who have no known links to larger white supremacist organizations.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon, who prosecuted Porcho, said youths who start with minor hate crimes, such as vandalism and assault, are dangerous because when they drift away “some skinheads have left the county and got involved with the KKK.”
Despite the decline in incidents, organizations targeted in hate crimes are keeping vigilant.
When the door of the Jewish Federation Council in Thousand Oaks was scratched with two swastikas in early October, Jewish leaders suspected it was the same vandals who attacked the residence of an elderly black couple in Agoura a month earlier, slashing furniture, smashing plants and spray-painting swastikas on walls.
“There’s more behind it than just a few scratches on the door,” Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks said. “Simply because you are Jewish, there are people who will hate you.”
Greenbaum said all three of the oldest Jewish synagogues in Ventura County have had swastikas and other anti-Semitic slurs painted on their buildings during the past 10 years. Like the vandals who scratched swastikas at the Jewish Federation Council building, those responsible were never found.
Only the Simi Valley and Ventura police departments have detectives specifically assigned to investigate hate crimes, but there is no countywide agency that tracks offenses committed by skinheads and neo-Nazis. Crime reports fail to categorize offenses against a racial or ethnic minority, or a gay person.
In other counties that do track hate crimes, such incidents are rising dramatically. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, for example, has documented a 32% increase in the first six months of 1990, compared with the same period last year.
Eugene Mornell, executive director of the commission, attributed some of the increase to the better reporting methods by police. Fifteen of the 46 law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles now track hate crimes, he said.
Mornell also blamed increased ethnic tensions on population shifts that have caused racial and ethnic minorities to move into what were once predominantly white communities. He said he believes Ventura County might be subject to the same increase in hate crimes affecting most cities in Southern California.
The recent spate of hate crimes, particularly in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, “does reflect something about the climate of those communities,” he said.
Joe Ellenbogen, a member of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith committee that keeps tabs on skinhead groups in Ventura County, talks grimly when he recalls seeing a newspaper photo of local youths with their arms raised in a Nazi salute.
More horrifying than the images they evoked was that they once lived around the corner from his Camarillo residence. While they have moved, Ellenbogen said he is convinced skinheads are still carrying out anti-Semitic acts in the area.
Last month, he was sent copies of a national neo-Nazi publication found in an Ojai restaurant. Inside were anti-Semitic references and a cartoon of a thick-lipped, curly haired Israeli dubbed “Uncle Sol.”
“I had relatives who died in the Holocaust,” Ellenbogen, 73, said. “I’ve come to understand that they (people who commit hate crimes) are here among us. . . . Their beliefs and their philosophy are not dead.”