Pride flag burned at Pacifica school being investigated as a hate crime

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday June 28, 2022
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The Peninsula city of Pacifica is holding a unity event June 28 after a Pride flag that had flown at an elementary school was found burned earlier this month.
The Peninsula city of Pacifica is holding a unity event June 28 after a Pride flag that had flown at an elementary school was found burned earlier this month.

The burning of an LGBTQ Pride flag at an elementary school in Pacifica earlier this month is bringing community members together Tuesday — June 28 — for a unity event to demonstrate what organizers are calling "an affirming and educational way" for people to "counter all acts of hate."

On June 6, someone stole the Pride flag that was flying outside Sunset Ridge Elementary School in the coastal community just south of San Francisco. According to reports from the Pacifica Police Department, "Officers were told an unknown person had removed a Pride flag that was affixed outside of a classroom. The flag was later found burned the following day, on the other side of the school campus."

The incident took place only two days after Pacifica observed its first Pride celebration but did not receive much attention at first, said Pacifica Mayor Mary Bier, in a response to the Bay Area Reporter.

"We didn't even learn about the incident until mid-June after school had already finished for summer break," said the mayor, who was particularly disheartened given that it occurred right on the heels of what she described as "our beautiful Pride event."

Despite that fact, efforts to respond and to organize the unity event happened quickly, Bier said.

"We worked very hard to plan our response as soon as we could after learning about the incident. The Unity event planning started last Tuesday so it really came together quickly," she said.

"This is the first year that the Progress Flag was flown in Pacifica. This is a big step for Pacifica and I am pleased that we will fly the flag every June. We are also beginning to plan next year's Pride event, which will then become an annual collaborative event. We are also part of the United Against Hate Campaign. It obviously is not enough and we look forward to continuously working alongside CoastPride [the local LGBTQ community group] to assure that our responses are strong and consistent."

Bier said the last time anything similar to the flag burning incident was when someone "replaced the U.S. flag with a confederate flag on the corner of Reina del Mar and Highway One. I have never heard of a flag burning before and we are all very upset by it."

That occurred shortly after a march supporting Black Lives Matter in 2020, she said.

To counter what police officials immediately labeled a possible hate crime, community members are invited to attend the unity event at Sunset Ridge Elementary, 340 Inverness Drive, Pacifica, at 5 p.m. "to affirm our values of inclusiveness and take action against hate," according to a news release.

The incident took place only two days after Pacifica observed its first Pride celebration.

"Schools and businesses raised the rainbow and Progress flags," Pacifica Mayor Mary Bier stated of the city's Pride celebration in a release announcing the unity event. "The city and CoastPride distributed multi-lingual welcoming signs with the logos of the city and CoastPride to local businesses. LGBTQ+ and allies came together in Pacifica's first annual Pride parade."

Local officials, including representatives of the local LGBTQ community group CoastPride, condemned the flag burning.

"Our Coastside community celebrates and supports diversity and acceptance," stated CoastPride Board Chair Jenny Walter. "We stand united against hate crimes, bias crimes, harassment, and discrimination. We will not allow this crime to sow fear and anger. We ask you to join the peaceful gathering on June 28 as we show the power of unity and inclusiveness."

Pacifica Police Chief Daniel Steidle said the flag burning was counter to Pacifica's values.

"This type of crime is in strong contrast to the deeply held values the City of Pacifica and community members believe in," Steidle stated. "Crimes involving hate will not be tolerated in our community and will be thoroughly investigated."

Ellie Cundiff, the principal of Sunset Ridge Elementary, said the school supports diversity.

"Sunset Ridge staff and community has always been committed to supporting diversity and inclusion," Cundiff stated. "It's crucial that we come together as a community to ensure that everyone feels welcome and safe. There is no room for hate."

Bier lauded the town's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

"The City of Pacifica is a place where we welcome, represent, and celebrate the great diversity of our community and the Coastside," Bier stated. "Our efforts with CoastPride are one way we can continue to carry out the city's commitment to our values of inclusiveness and acceptance, and dedication to opposing any attempt to marginalize people or groups. We are proud to be active partners with CoastPride and the LGBTQ+ community."

The unity event takes place the same day as California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued the 2021 report on hate crimes in California. The incidents of hate crimes have risen dramatically, Bonta said in a news conference earlier in the day.

Reported hate crimes involving a sexual orientation bias increased significantly, rising 47.8% from 2020 to 2021, according to the report. Reported hate crimes targeting Black people remain the most prevalent and increased 12.5% from 456 in 2020 to 513 in 2021, according to the attorney general's office, while reported anti-Asian hate crime events once again increased dramatically, rising 177.5% from 2020 to 2021.

"Today's report undeniably shows that the epidemic of hate we saw spurred on during the pandemic remains a clear and present threat," said Bonta. "In fact, reported hate crime has reached a level we haven't seen in California since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. As our state's top law enforcement officer, I will continue to use the full authority of my office to fight back. We will keep working with our local law enforcement partners and community organizations to make sure every Californian feels seen, heard, and protected."

Updated, 6/28/22L This article has been updated with comments from the Pacifica mayor.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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