A 14-year old boy was arrested on a suspicion of a hate crime after he allegedly punched a rabbi and shouted “white power” near the Sephardic synagogue of which he is the spiritual leader, police said. The boy was booked into Juvenile Hall on battery and hate crime charges, according to San Diego police Lt. Shawn Takeuchi.
The incident occurred on Oct. 10 when Rabbi Yonatan Halevy, 31, and his father were walking to Kehillat Shaar HaShamayim Synagogue when a teen rode past on his bicycle, before circling back to punch the rabbi on the top of his and shout something about “white power,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The brunt from the hit knocked the rabbi to his feet, as the alleged assailant spewed slurs before he rode off laughing, reported the Union-Tribune.
“I was shocked, stunned, and hurt, but was grateful that my father was unharmed,” Halvey wrote on his synagogue website, reported The Forward.
Halvey said it took the police nearly an hour to arrive after he called 911 and once they did officers initially told him there was little they could do, even though he had a photo of the teen, who continued to linger outside the synagogue to taunt them, reported the New York Daily News.
It wasn’t until the rabbi reached out to local media, reported The Forward, that his case got some attention, and was put in touch with the head of the department’s Northern Division, Capt. Matt Novak, whose officers responded to the rabbi’s call for help.
“It went from ‘They can’t do anything’ to ‘This is No. 1 priority,’” Halevy said.
Through a department spokesman, Novak said he “spoke to the rabbi personally, and acknowledged that the initial response could have been better,” the Union-Tribune reported
The captain also said that “going forward, he will be having discussions and possibly training with officers to help them better understand and better respond to incidents like these.”
Tammy Gillies, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego, described the most recent attacks as a “message crime,” reported the news outlet.
“It doesn’t just impact the target, but it's a message to the whole community that says, ‘We don’t want you here,'” said Gilles. “That is the double impact of the hate crime.”
She also stressed how important is to “take hate and any hate incident very seriously.”
She added, “We don’t want to be dismissive and say it was just kids.”
According to the ADL, San Diego had approximately 40 hate crimes a year between 2010 and 2018.
The District Attorney’s office saw a spike in hate crime charges against 30 people, between 2018 and in 2019, according to the Union-Tribune. Alleged shooter John Earnest, the 20-year-old, who allegedly opened fire at a Poway synagogue in April 2019, killing one congregant and injuring several others, and a month prior, allegedly setting fire at a mosque in Escondido, was part of that tally. Earnest has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
So far this year in San Diego County, local law enforcement has submitted 39 potential hate-crime cases to prosecutors for consideration. Prosecutors brought charges in 29 of the cases, although only 15 were filed with hate-crime allegations, reported the news outlet.
To show their support that hate will not be tolerated in their community, hundreds of people held up signs of solidarity to the Jewish community in University City where the Kehillat Shaar HaShamayim Synagogue is located in support of their rabbi and congregation. The march was captured on the Twitter page of @CBS8.