The apparent rise of activity among white supremacists in the Northern San Joaquin Valley has prompted several cities to take action, condemning hate speech and pledging inclusion of all groups.
Much of the attention has been focused on Turlock, where Nathan Damigo, an Oakdale man who started a white nationalist group, is enrolled at California State University, Stanislaus. Several people have spoken at recent City Council meetings regarding stickers with racist messages being left on government property, including stop signs and light posts.
Earlier this month, several dozen people took part in a march and presentation to the council.
Many folks aimed their frustration at Police Chief Nino Amirfar, demanding to know what steps his department has taken and why the perpetrators haven't been stopped. Amirfar took part in a question and answer session with The Bee to address those concerns.
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Q. What kind of activity have officers been seeing related to white supremacist groups in Turlock?
A. The only thing that was brought to our attention lately (November 2017) was the "alt right" and "open border" stickers placed on public right-of-way signs and poles.
Q. Could the affixing of stickers to public property be considered a hate crime? Why or why not?
A. No, Hate crime is defined under California Penal Code 422.5: a criminal act committed, in whole or part against a protected class identified in this code. It must be targeted toward an individual or group, not public right-of-way, as that message or views in this case are protected under the First Amendment.
Q. What is the biggest misconception about what's been happening in and around Turlock, and how is your department trying to address it?
A. That this type of view posed in these stickers is the view of our community and that our community is not safe. Our community is SAFE.
We are taking every step we can to immediately remove these stickers, we are documenting the incidents and when we catch the person or persons we will prosecute. We have begun a public awareness campaign on social media, we are now working with the Modesto NAACP to get the message of "Not In Our Town" out and hopefully business in town will participate and post the posters. We have also posted in Crime Stoppers asking for community help. We recently asked Department of Justice for additional assistance with surveillance equipment and are waiting for their response.
Q. What is the difference between an action like placing a sticker on a stop sign and lighting someone's American flag on fire, as happened recently?
A. The placement of any signs or stickers in our city on public right-away of signs is a violation of our municipal code and if damage occurs may also be charged as a vandalism, a misdemeanor. The burning of a flag, while a majority of our society considers it disrespectful, is not necessarily a crime, except if it is the property of someone else then it can be not only be a petty theft but also vandalism of that persons property.
However when it is placed on inhabited dwelling it is arson of an inhabited dwelling and a felony. It is the attempted illegal burning of the home, building, or property that is the major crime.
Q. How can people help if they see stickers or any kind of activity that might be considered related to a hate group?
A. Please notify TPD at 668-1200 if it is occurring in Turlock. If possible, a picture of the persons and or vehicles if any would be great, but do not put yourself in harm’s way.
Q. Anything else you want people to know?
A. Your Police Department strives every second of every day to insure that our community is safe for everyone. Your officers are sworn to uphold the constitution of the State of California and United States along with enforce all laws. We are committed to public service and our Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.
A comment was made during a council meeting and has been made numerous times before during my 28+ years – something to the effect of: “What are the police going to do?, wait till someone is hurt or killed?”
Our laws are society-driven to maintain law and order and are for law abiding citizen. When crimes or breaking the law is actually committed or attempted that is when we can take immediate action and we are reactive. We strive to utilize every tool we have including technology and community information/intelligence to be as proactive as possible without violating our constitution and our community/persons privacy in order to deter or prevent the criminal activity.
We do a pretty good job but we aren’t always able to be in the right place at the right time and it is not for the lack of trying. We care about our community and will never stop fighting to KEEP it a safe and vibrant Turlock with the help of our community.