Elementary school district officials are angry over the act of a vandal or vandals who stole some of the district's Spanish-language signs and re-posted them on Shoreline Boulevard last month with the words "No More Aliens" spray-painted in red.
Whether the act is technically a hate crime depends on whether there was hate in the mind of those who did it. Mountain View police say they are not sure, and have suspended an investigation into the case due to lack of evidence.
The two-by-three-foot signs -- part of the Mountain View Whisman School District's 2008-09 enrollment drive informing Spanish-speaking parents about school registration -- were originally posted around the city by parent volunteers, and were stolen days before the presidential election. On Oct. 31, they were rediscovered with the "No More Aliens" message on Shoreline Boulevard.
Oscar Garcia, president of Mesa de la Comunidad, a local nonprofit that advocates for the Latino community, was the one who found them. He immediately informed district administrators and the police, but the three parties decided not to publicize the incident until three weeks later during the monthly meeting of the Challenge Team, when local leaders discuss problems facing at-risk students.
"There was no threat of violence and it appears isolated," said Captain Max Bosel, who is handling the case.
Bosel said the incident is currently considered an act of vandalism. Police say they still do not know whether it was motivated by hate, and they can't determine this until they know who committed the crime and the suspect's motives.
"It depends what the suspect was thinking at the time. We are trying to keep an open mind," Bosel said. "It is important to understand the emotional impact, but we make decisions based on law."
The penal code defines a hate crime as an action against a certain nationality or ethnicity, and during last week's Challenge Team meeting, Assistant District Attorney Javier Alcala reiterated that the charges would depend on "what was on the person's mind." He originally did not think it was a hate crime, he said, until Garcia told him the sign was the only one in a large group of political signs spray-painted with the message.
"They only targeted this specific sign," Garcia said.
Local school administrators and community members said they want to make sure that such an incident does not happen again this spring, as the district prepares to post more enrollment signs throughout the city. Over 50 percent of the district's students are Latino, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said, and California public schools do not check immigration status.
"We are going to be vigilant about people who steal," Ghysels said.
Garcia said he might have dismissed the incident had it not been for another confrontation at around the same time, when local Day Worker Center employees said they experienced two "intimidating" encounters with a neighbor.
"There is hatred out there and we should have zero tolerance for that," Garcia said.
In that incident, a man twice came to the Worker Center's new property on Escuela Avenue, telling day workers and employees, "We don't want you to be here," according to Maria Marroquin, executive director of the center. The first time he came, he brought a camera and was taking pictures of board members and members of the community, Marroquin said.
"He was trying to intimidate people with his camera," she said.
Captain Bosel said the police investigated the incident, and employee and worker testimonials indicated the neighbor's visits were "motivated by the center, not ethnicity or race."