As complaints mounted over a nine-day official silence, police on Tuesday agreed to consult the FBI in the investigation of a violent, race-related clash between two groups of Yorba Linda teens.
Police and Yorba Linda city officials said they decided not to disclose the Feb. 22 beating of Rashid Alam, an 18-year-old Arab American man, in order to investigate it.
But community activists Tuesday questioned the delay in publicizing the case, which became news Monday when the victim's family came forward. Some saw a double standard.
"There's a feeling in our community that crimes against [Muslims] are not treated the same way" as crimes against others, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He spoke Tuesday at a news conference attended by human rights activists, religious leaders and police.
A 16-year-old from Placentia and a 17-year-old from Yorba Linda were arrested on misdemeanor assault charges three days after the incident, but the lack of further arrests has incensed some Arab American and human rights activists.
"A few [of the attackers] are allegedly going around their schools bragging about how they almost killed or disabled this Arab boy," Ayloush said.
The incident occurred in Yorba Linda but is being investigated by the Brea Police Department, which covers the city under contract. Brea police did not inform the FBI about the attack, which they categorize as a possible hate crime, but said they would meet with federal officials today.
Local officials generally have discretion to involve federal authorities in hate crimes.
Brea police said they are trying to interview about 50 witnesses and have identified primary suspects.
"We're still trying to develop evidence so we can make the arrests," said Sgt. Jack Conklin.
The assault, which left Alam with a broken jaw and fractured facial bones, is the fifth suspected hate crime Brea police have investigated in Yorba Linda since January 2001, Conklin said.
Citing a perceived lack of action, though, Ayloush and other human rights advocates Tuesday urged federal investigators to get involved.
"Our community needs this protection and is awaiting strong immediate protection from the FBI," Ayloush said.
"The American Muslim community is scared and looking for answers."
It is also tasting fear.
"The kids are just in shock," said Fawad Yacoob, a history teacher at Orange Crescent School, a Muslim school in Garden Grove attended by Alam's two young sisters.
"We have parents who are scared."
FBI officials said they plan to monitor the investigation and will meet with Brea police and the Orange County district attorney's office before deciding whether the incident warrants federal charges.
While members of Alam's group said the attackers yelled white supremacist slogans during the attack, they also said the two groups had a months-long history of race-tinged antagonism, including a fight at a party last summer between one of the assailants and Alam's brother, Mohamed.
The latest fight became a prime topic of conversation at Anaheim's Esperanza High School, where students said many of those involved either attend school or have graduated.
Some were surprised by the allegations of a hate crime, viewing the incident as a violent clash between two rival groups of friends, more "West Side Story" than anything else.
"We just thought it was a bunch of kids who don't like each other," said senior Jenae Suite, 17.
School officials learned of the beating through a police officer assigned to the campus, said Principal Dave Flynn. If students were involved, he said, "then we will take appropriate steps and any necessary disciplinary action."
Yorba Linda officials defended the police decision to keep the incident quiet while investigators worked. Council members were informed of the incident a few days ago through an e-mail from Brea Police Capt. Bill Hutchinson, the Yorba Linda police liaison.
"Public disclosure is very important," said Councilman Ken Ryan.
"We need to make people aware. However, at the same time, we're going to make sure the investigation is done right."
Yorba Linda officials said the Alam beating was an isolated, but not unexpected, occurrence in the predominantly white city of 59,000 people with a median family income of $96,000, compared with about $59,000 for the county overall.
"We don't have gang problems or hate crime problems to the magnitude that other communities have. But also, they're not absent from our community," said Councilman Jim Winder, a retired Brea police captain.
"There are many neighborhoods in Yorba Linda that know or should know that an element like that is present in their neighborhood. Some of this -- or much of this -- is a youth-going-through-stages kind of thing."
Yet some racism experts said incidents like the Alam beating are cause for concern as American society becomes increasingly diverse and complex.
"We throw them into public schools and expect them to be models of assimilation while in our private lives we're still very segregated," said Randy Blazak, a Portland (Ore.) State University sociology professor who runs the Hate Crimes Research Network.
"It's hard for these kids to have the skills to negotiate, and it goes back to notions of masculinity. How do you 'Solve it like men'? You go outside and have violence."
The Alam family has hired Santa Ana civil rights attorney Federico Castelan Sayre, a former attorney for police-beating victim Rodney G. King, and intends to sue the assailants' parents or guardians, said John L. de Leon, a lawyer with Sayre's firm.
Alam's friends said the confrontation occurred about an hour after they and Alam met at Yorba Linda's San Antonio Park late Feb. 22 with vague plans to go to the Block at Orange.
Police officials said they received an anonymous call earlier in the evening warning them that a racial fight would take place in Yorba Linda, but with no other details.
Based on that, and the history of confrontations between members of the two groups, police said they believe the meeting was an arranged fight and not a hate crime.
Times staff writers Christine Hanley and Kimi Yoshino contributed to this report.