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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
US city tackling race hate
A flag-waver at the Miss America contest 2001
There are fears patriotism could turn to racism

Civic leaders in San Francisco who fear reprisals against Muslims in the run up to the first anniversary of 11 September have launched an anti-hate campaign.

The message the city fathers want to send out is very clear.

"In this city, which has always been known for its tolerance, the only thing we will not tolerate is intolerance," declared District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

The campaign includes posters on the 800 public buses and at bus stops sprinkled throughout the city. They show two men and two women of South East Asian or Middle Eastern descent and have a rainbow of colour in the background.

They read: "We are not the enemy. We are your community."

Anti race-hate poster on a bus stop billboard, San Francisco
Posters are going up across the city
Mr Hallinan said: "People in this city have had a very good record when it comes to accepting each other, but true 'Homeland Security' is a measure of how well we treat each other not in the easy times but in the tough times."

He said that during the month of the terrorist attacks last year, 28 race crimes were reported in San Francisco. In the four months following 11 September, police recorded 54 anti-Arab hate crimes.

However, in most cases, perpetrators could not be found or there was not enough evidence to support a criminal conviction.

After 11 September, San Francisco appointed a special prosecutor to handle incidents involving victims of Middle Eastern origin. Two felony cases involving either assault or battery against Middle Eastern victims were filed by the district attorney and four misdemeanour cases involving threats or vandalism were filed.

One misdemeanour case ended in a jury acquittal. Other cases were settled or are pending an outcome.

The district attorney's office has said it hopes this campaign will spark a conversation about the issue of hate crimes and force people to examine what they mean and what the consequences are for innocent people.

'Your neighbours'

Community groups who helped develop the project hope it demonstrates the city's reputation for racial sensitivity and diversity. They have welcomed the city's move to attack the issue head on.

San Francisco is not going to tolerate hate

Souleiman Ghali, Islamic Society of San Francisco
Jill Tregor of the Intergroup Clearinghouse which addresses issues of race said it "sends a message to the larger public that race crimes after 9/11 are unacceptable".

She said she hoped the public grasped the fact that people of Arab descent "are your community members, they are not terrorists, they are your neighbours".

But Ms Tregor said past experience had taught her that not everyone will heed the message.

"I would be happy to be wrong about this but the fact is that in the run-up to every anniversary for the Pearl Harbor attacks, we see an increase in violence against the Chinese and Asian population among our community," she said.

Vivek Mittal from the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action agreed.

"This campaign is very important but we expect a spike in hate crime because of all the war mongering by the government and the resurgence in patriotism," he said.

But he added: "This is a progressive city and this campaign is very important in teaching other people about the value of our culture to San Francisco."

The district attorney's office has revealed that in the approach to the anniversary and afterwards, its victim services unit and the police will be stepping up manpower.

At the same time, San Francisco Bay area anti-discrimination groups have formed a United Response Collaborative to call on public agencies to prepare for any potential rise in hate crimes.

"This is a campaign not just about San Francisco, but about all over," said Souleiman Ghali of the city's Islamic Society. "San Francisco is not going to tolerate hate."

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