A Hispanic Petaluma family was enjoying a Fourth of July party, getting ready to watch some fireworks and playing music in Spanish. Their revelry was broken, however, when a neighbor, Larry Lappin, turned up at their front door with an American flag bandana on his head, demanding that the family stop playing their music.
“You want to do that on Fourth of July?” an angry Lappin is heard saying in a video that has gone viral. “You want to come in my country and do that on Fourth of July?”
It is an ugly scene and tempting to dismiss as atypical of Petaluma. After all, this is a city that, just a week earlier, held a rally against the federal policy of separating immigrant families at the border. It’s a city that codifies its tolerance in proclamations and resolutions. Certainly this type of blatant racism rarely happens here, right?
But unfortunately, the trend is in the opposite direction. According to a recent state Department of Justice report, Sonoma County saw a spike in hate crimes last year, and Petaluma accounted for half of those countywide.
Sixteen hate crimes were reported to Sonoma County authorities in 2017, up from 10 the previous year, the Department of Justice reported. Eight of those incidents happened in Petaluma, which reported only one hate crime the previous year. The incidents include crimes against people targeted for their race, sexual orientation, religion or gender.
These statistics are troubling, but not surprising, as hate crimes are also on the rise throughout the state and across the country. This seems to be another symptom of having a president who has actively courted approval from racist groups. Indeed, since President Trump’s election, white nationalist groups have felt emboldened, especially as Trump continues to overtly pander to them.
No one was charged with a crime in the Fourth of July incident caught on camera in Petaluma. In fact, the family that had their party so rudely interrupted did a commendable job of de-escalating the confrontation, and the angry neighbor left before the scene turned violent. He said he later apologized to the family.
While we are shocked when racial tensions boil over in places like Charlottesville, Virginia, those same tensions exist, if just below the surface, even in Petaluma. While this is a very tolerant community, the statistics suggest we may not be as tolerant as we think.
Hate crimes and blatantly racist incidents are happening here with more frequency in the Trump era. When they happen, it is important to condemn them and work to ensure that they remain a rarity in Petaluma.