Huntington Beach City Council members denounced racism and and condemned a potential white lives matter demonstration this weekend, following a wave of anti-Asian American attacks in recent weeks.
A flyer promoting the rally is circulating online and similar flyers popped up promoting white lives matter rallies all over the country at the same day and time.
Questions remain over the origin of the white lives matter rally, and it’s unclear which group is behind it.
This story is part of an ongoing series exploring concrete steps Orange County leaders can take to tackle racial justice and hate across the region, amid a recent spike in hate incidents across the county and U.S. during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Originally when we got the flyer, I was trying to figure out where it was coming from and the best I could figure out is that it looks like it’s something that started on Telegram. Honestly, I don’t know how far it has spread. Clearly, from the flyer, no one is choosing to claim to be the organizer of it,” said Alison Edwards, CEO of the Orange County Human Relations Council, in a Monday phone interview.
Huntington P0lice Chief Julian Harvey said at Monday’s city council meeting police officers are preparing for the rally, but did not provide specifics on how the department would respond.
“Our staff continues to diligently gather relevant information about upcoming planned events, including this Sunday in order to be as prepared as possible,” Harvey said. “We do have a very robust plan in place and the plan continues to take shape depending on the information that we gather as the events get closer.”
The city received several Easter reports that Ku Klux Klan flyers were distributed to homes in the downtown area.
Similar reports came out of Newport Beach last week.
The white lives matter rally, the KKK flyers and a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans are forcing the city to reckon with what some have described as a long history of racism and intolerance.
The rally is frightening some residents.
“A KKK rally on April 11 is scary,” one resident wrote to the council. “I expect many klansmen all over the state, perhaps from neighboring states, to congregate at the pier area. I will not be surprised if there is a riot.”
In response to the rally, Huntington Beach City Council members voted Monday on a resolution to denounce such movements.
Councilman Erik Peterson abstained.
City council members unanimously voted to co-host a virtual event with the OC Human Relations denouncing racism.
“What I heard earlier tonight from our speakers for public comments was that the hate is still here,” Councilwoman Natalie Moser said. “We need to send a loud message that Huntington Beach stands with our friends and neighbors of color — many of whom are living in fear right now.”
“People of color are being targeted and they deserve to feel safe here.”
Moser amended the item to have staff speed up development of a dialogue and speaker series in the works and incorporate anti-hate and anti-hate themes.
Many public comments and emails condemned the white lives matter demonstration and KKK flyers.
“The Klan is coming here because they think that you will do nothing. They’ve seen racist bullies come to downtown this past year in one guise or another and face zero consequences,” one resident told the council Monday, asking them to take action. “We all remember what happened in Anaheim years ago. People still talk about it.”
The rally and the flyers come on the heels of some cities and school districts adopting largely symbolic resolutions to denounce hatred against the Asian American community.
While racism against Asian Americans has a complex and extensive history in the U.S., the resolutions are a response to the surge of violence and hate crimes against the community in cities across America since the start of the pandemic.
Nearly 4,000 incidents of violence and hate nationally were reported between March 19, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021, according to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center — which launched in 2020.
Huntington Beach passed a resolution condemning the increase in hate crimes.
Peterson abstained from the vote.
“We keep having these declarations that don’t do anything. Of course we denounce hate crimes. That’s why we have laws against them,” he said. “I actually don’t know when words started hurting people. I grew up in ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, words never hurt me.’”
Other council members called Peterson’s comments dismissive and argued that the resolution does take action.
“It’s shameful to talk about ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ when it comes to what the members of our community have been experiencing. It is dismissive of their experience. It doesn’t indicate to them that they are seen or that their experiences are real, relevant or worthy,” Moser said.
As part of the resolution, Huntington Beach council members are directing the city’s Human Relations Task force and police department to publish data on hate crimes online as well as engage with community members and come up with ways for the city to respond to such crimes.
Cities like Yorba Linda and Santa Ana are expected to consider similar anti-hate resolutions Tuesday evening.
Some in Orange County argue while the resolutions are important, it’s time for more than just words.
Irvine launched an online multi-language hate crime and hate incident reporting portal and Garden Grove recently launched a new multi-language hotline to report non-emergency hate crimes and incidents.
One Huntington Beach resident at Monday’s meeting said the council needs to create policies to address extremism in the city, not just a declaration.
“It is fearful to live here as a person of color,” the resident said. “We want to enjoy outings at the Huntington Beach Pier just like everyone else who lives in Huntington Beach, but we’re scared for our safety. We’re scared for the safety of our family.”
“This is our city too.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.