With the first black president-elect, the United States has made a leap forward in dealing with extreme prejudice, but to think that intolerance over race, gender or sexual orientation is history would be wrong.
According to Los Angeles County Sheriff Chief of Field Operations Region One Neil Tyler, hate crimes and prejudicial thinking is still very much a part of our society.
According to reports, L.A. County hate crimes increased by 28% in 2007, while the rest of the nation showed a decrease. In 2007, according to the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, there were 535 racial and 111 sexual orientation hate crimes reported.
Region One includes La Cañada, Crescenta Valley and Altadena, as well as Palmdale, Lancaster and Temple City. This region has one of the highest number of reported hate crimes in the county, Tyler said.
Because of this high rate and seeing the toll that it takes on victims and their entire community, Tyler, along with one of his commanders at the time, Cecil Rhambo, began discussing how the sheriff’s department could take a proactive stance in combating this issue. The original idea was to have a type of North County Museum of Tolerance.
“As we tried to make that idea practical [it developed] into more of a mobile museum and theater,” Tyler said.
He contacted Lt. Michael Bornman, who now serves at the Altadena station but at the time was with the Crescenta Valley station. Bornman took the project and ran with it with help from Sgt. Ray Harley of the CV Station.
“I grabbed Ray as my back-up and we worked on the mobile museum,” Bornman said.
The result is a 33-foot trailer and a DVD that depicts the hate crimes and what they leave in their wake.
“We had a professional [short film] done for the project. It is an ‘in your face’ [film],” Bornman said.
The two-year project has just recently been completed but already the feedback has been overwhelming.
“We have had requests from all over the county,” said Deputy Dave Jennings, the only officer assigned to the project.
Although the hate crimes have not been reported in La Cañada Flintridge, Tyler said that intolerance for those who are different is not isolated to one area, but has crept into every community at some level. He added that he understands the importance of cultural pride but that tolerance of others should also be taught.
“Potentially [prejudicial] joking may lead or at least indicates a sense of indifference,” Tyler said. “We may not be able to reach those adults that are so blindly filled with hate, but my thing is to talk to the kids.”
Tyler said members of the department volunteer their time to work and support the project. The trailer has traveled to schools in the region and officers have seen an impact on both students and adults. One of the more recent trips was to Vasquez High School, where a student had committed suicide after enduring ongoing bullying.
Originally the thought was to have the film shown to groups of 25 in the trailer, but Tyler is now looking into the possibility of having the film shown in classrooms in an effort to reach more students. He is cautious of this attempt because it is not just the film that has an impact, but also the personal discussions that follow with deputies and the audience.
Tyler has two goals for the project; first and foremost is to reach out to those students who have adopted hatred and prejudicial ignorance, and the other is to build a bridge between law enforcement and the community. He wants to show that the department uniform does not always mean trouble and the department cares about the community it serves.
The target audience is the high school freshman class. Realizing that some schools have large classes and it may be difficult to have students view the film in small groups, Tyler has been exploring taking the DVD out of the trailer and into the classroom. Glendale Unified School District, which serves families living in the western portion of La Cañada Flintridge, has been contacted as being the first district to try this new outreach approach. Deputy Steve Toley, school resource officer at Rosemont Middle School, is discussing with the district whether to take it to Crescenta Valley High School or Rosemont. The concern is that the film may be too intense for Rosemont’s eighth graders.
The project is looking to expand with more mobile museums but the department does not have funding for the project. It is staffed on a volunteer basis
Those who are interested in the Share Tolerance project or who would like to donate are invited to visit the website at www.sharetolerance.com.