The Sims family talks about the murder of 28-year-old William Sims at a press conference announcing a Bay Area-wide week in November to highlight hate crimes. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley and 14 other cities are banding together to launch a week in November that focuses on hate crimes.

Dubbed “Bay Area Stands United Against Hate,” the idea is to highlight the prevalence of hate crimes, to educate people to speak out against them and to create a society in which they are unacceptable, according to the organizers. The hope is that it will become a national, annual event.

“Hate crime is on the rise… even in diverse areas like the Bay Area,” said George Gascón, the district attorney of San Francisco, one of the cities participating in the week, at a press conference in Berkeley on Wed. Sept. 26 . “We know that behavior that was beneath the surface has come out. The ugliness in many of our communities today has become acceptable behavior.”

Gascón went on to say that San Francisco has seen an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community. The FBI estimated that there were 250,000 hate crimes in 2016 but that only 6,121 were reported, according to statistics presented at the press conference.

Bay Area Stands United Against Hate is an outgrowth of an initiative started by Berkeley in 2017. After the city was roiled with a series of violent protests between members of the far right and the far left, Jacquelyn McCormick, a senior aide to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, came up with the idea to create a poster that said “Berkeley Stands United Against Hate.” It was designed by Lena Wolff and Lexi Visco.

The mayor embraced the idea, as did the City Council and other officials. Berkeley distributed around 20,000 posters with that message. Oakland and other cities also joined in with their personalized posters.

The most poignant moment at the press conference at the Ed Roberts Campus came when the Sims family spoke about the 2016 murder of their son William, 28, outside an El Sobrante bar. The district attorney had initially pursued including hate crime charges against the three men suspected of the killing, but a grand jury declined to include them. The Sims said they hoped their son’s murder would make people aware that hate is present and deadly in the Bay Area.

“Every hate crime involves a person, a family that is devastated by the crime,” said Renee Sims, William Sims’ mother.

Berkeley and other cities are working with the Oakland group, Not in Our Town, to put on the week-long event. The group has prepared videos and an information packet that is tailored to be used by various groups, such as community groups, schools and law enforcement.

YouTube video

The cities that have signed up to participate so far include Albany, Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, Piedmont, Hayward, Fremont, Castro Valley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Novato, Richmond, San Leandro and San Pablo. Alameda and Marin counties are also participating, as is UC Berkeley, the offices of Rep. Barbara Lee, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, Alameda County Supervisors Keith Carson and Nate Miley, and Marin County Supervisor John Goia. McCormick said other cities are considering whether or not to join in.

“It is ridiculous to think any place in this country is immune from hate and intolerance,” said Patrice O’Neill, the founder of Not In Our Town. “Having this list of cities say we are going to stand united against hate is a really big deal … and this is only the first year.”

Berkeley will kick off the week with a Nov. 11 rally in Civic Center Park, the place where many of the 2017 protests took place, said Arreguín. Berkeley will also be a co-sponsor of the Berkeley Half-Marathon as a way to get the word out about the week, among other activities that will be announced soon. The city plans to print another 20,000 posters and the locations where they can be picked up will be announced soon, said McCormick.

“We’re wanting this to become a national thing, like Breast Cancer Awareness,” said McCormick.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...