San Bernardino Councilmember Ben Reynoso speaks at the SB Community Stand Against Racism gathering in front of SB City Hall, October 23, 2023.
San Bernardino Councilmember Ben Reynoso speaks at the SB Community Stand Against Racism gathering in front of SB City Hall, October 23, 2023. Credit: BVN staff

Last Updated on October 24, 2023 by BVN

S.E. Williams

The incident of hate speech that occurred during last week’s San Bernardino City Council meeting by a faceless, unknown coward who spewed his vile comments via telephone, certainly raised the ire of the community to a fever pitch with passion not seen since the uprising of 2020. 

In its wake, the city has offered an official apology, the community has gathered together in solidarity and the police are pulling out all the stops to identify the racist culprit— and with the IP address it is possible they just might identify the individual… and then what?

How do you change people’s hearts and minds? That is the operative question and certainly if we knew the answer to it, then as a community, as a state, as a nation, we would have applied it long ago and such incidents would be a thing of the past. That being said, positive things are happening in the wake of the incident. 

In addition to community dialogue and acts of solidarity as experienced during the San Bernardino Community Stand Against Racism held Monday, October 23, we are looking to apply the law that may not be able to change hearts and minds, but can certainly impose accountability. In this instance, the accountability option is  California Penal Code 403 which makes it a crime for a person to willfully disturb or break up a public meeting. CA Penal Code 403 is the best option for accountability in this instance because hate speech is not a crime. 

Accountability is when you accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions, words, and decisions.

Emily May

In June, Black Voice News, in partnership with Mapping Black California, released a report, Mapping Hate, where we examined incidents of hate in California by county across a five year period, 2016 to 2021. What stood out was firstly, that Anti-Black or African American hate crimes continue to be the largest bias incident victim category and secondly, the majority of offense types during this period were verbal slurs. But again, I must reiterate that hate speech is not a crime though it is considered a hate incident which is defined as “an action or behavior motivated by hate but which, for one or more reasons, is not a crime.”  

Although there is currently a lot of passion in the community among those angry about what occurred and who are  pressing for accountability, I would ask that instead we consider this in the equation. During the five year period of our Mapping Hate report, among the things that stood out were that the majority of racial hate crimes during this period were Anti-Black (28%). The data also revealed there is little consequence for bad behavior as it relates to such hate crimes. Generally, only 35% of hate crimes are referred for potential prosecution and of those, only 50% (18% off all crimes) are filed. From there 58% of cases filed are disposed, and of those, 49% are convicted as a hate crime. The other 51% are either not convicted of a hate crime, or not convicted at all. When you crunch the numbers, what this means is that of all the hate crimes committed in the state of California during the five year study period, less than six percent resulted in a hate crime conviction. 

The quest for accountability is a word used ad nauseam  in relation to criminal justice. For example, how often do we hear officials—especially law and order enthusiasts who never saw a jail they did not want to fill–-talk about the need for those who commit crimes to be held accountable—especially Black folks. But when it comes to crimes, hate crimes in particular committed against Black people  we have to stop and ask: Where is the accountability?  

Hate speech as experienced during the San Bernardino City Council meeting last week is hurtful and should not be tolerated, but again, it is not a crime. However, there are real hate crimes being perpetrated against Blacks and other minorities that continue to go unpunished with very little notice. 

One of the ways we can truly channel frustration over what happed and make a difference is to demand that police agencies put as much energy into holding perpetrators of hate crimes accountable as they do in over arresting, over-charging and over-convicting Black people far out of proportion to their presence in the population. 

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real. 

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Stephanie has received awards for her investigative reporting and for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at