The suspects, all white males ages 14 and 15, allegedly shouted racial slurs and threatened to kill four Latino 11-year-olds as the boys walked home from Graham Middle School on Dec. 5. They eventually ran out of the home they were in, police said, and chased the boys down the 1200 block of Mercy Street while brandishing a "replica firearm."
Police arrested the teens that same day on charges of hate crimes, criminal threats, brandishing a replica firearm and conspiracy to commit a felony.
Last Thursday, members of the Challenge Team, a consortium of local leaders which meets once a month to discuss issues facing at-risk students, called for a community-wide response in order to explore the roots of racism in the city.
"The reason I am adamant about doing something as a community to address this issue is I feel hatred is not hereditary. It is an acquired disease, and unless there is early detection and intervention it will spread," said Oscar Garcia, president of Mesa de la Comunidad, a nonprofit that advocates for the Latino community in Mountain View.
The suspects, whose names are not being released, do not have criminal records, police said. But Graham Middle School Principal Gretchen Jacobs said that according to school records they were a "continuous problem" and "always in trouble" when they attended Graham last year.
The alleged crimes are an isolated incident, she said, adding that the Graham campus is normally calm and free of racial tension.
No one at the meeting seemed to doubt the guilt of the three teens, though police Chief Scott Vermeer said they grew up under difficult circumstances.
"The suspects in this case have a challenging home life," he said. "They are going to find ways to bring attention to themselves."
As for the victims, they have been given group counseling through Youth Services Unit, a new police unit that brings counselors and police officers together to prevent gang violence and other problems facing youth.
Counselor Nicole Gwire said the boys are "angry" and "confused," but are healing thanks to support from the community, police officers and teachers.
"Typical mentality is they will turn their anger and confusion on someone else," Gwire said. "We don't want that to happen to another innocent person."
Community leaders said they hope the Mercy Street incident will spark a conversation about race and hate crime in Mountain View. Alicia Crank, a member of the Human Relations Commission, had already been planning a showing of "Not in Our Town," a documentary about residents in a Montana town who rally against local hate crimes. Although the showing was planned for the spring, Cranks and other community and church leaders now want to show the film in early winter to encourage discussion about race.
"One of the reasons we want to push up the date is it is coming from somewhere," Cranks said of the alleged hate crimes. "Where is this coming from? It is sparking something for people to react like this. Let's find out what it is."
An average of one hate crime per year is reported in Mountain View, according to police spokeswoman Liz Wylie. The Mercy Street incident is the first reported hate crime in 2008.
The classification of "hate crime" is sometimes subjective and often controversial. In October, Spanish-language signs belonging to the elementary school district were stolen and reappeared on Shoreline Boulevard with "No More Aliens" spray-painted on them in red. District administrators called the vandalism a hate crime, but police said they did not have enough information to make that assertion.