Southern California City Makes It a Crime to Distribute ‘Hateful’ Flyers

Southern California City Makes It a Crime to Distribute ‘Hateful’ Flyers

A sign is held up during an interfaith Rally Against Anti-Semitism, hosted by Greater Miami Jewish Federation at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach in Miami Beach, Fla., on June 3, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

11/14/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

The small community of Poway in Southern California has made it a crime to post “hate litter” after finding antisemitic flyers near the city’s synagogue.
The Poway City Council voted unanimously Nov. 7 to ban flyers intended to “sow fear, intimidate, and harass,” said Mayor Steve Vaus, who introduced the ordinance.
Anyone caught violating the new law faces a $1,000 fine or six months in prison, or both.
Hateful flyers were recently left around a neighborhood near the Chabad of Poway, a Jewish house of worship, in the city of nearly 50,000 residents located about 30 miles north of San Diego. It was one of a number of antisemitic incidents reported in the past month in Southern California in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the terrorist organization Hamas.
“I was disgusted ... when the neighborhood surrounding the Chabad of Poway was littered with hateful flyers—flyers intended to sow fear, intimidate, and harass our Jewish brothers and sisters,” Mr. Vaus said during the council meeting.
He additionally said he was shocked to learn that if authorities caught those who posted the flyers, they would only receive a slap on the wrist.
This wasn’t the first time the Chabad was targeted. In 2019, a gunman killed one woman and injured three others when he opened fire at the synagogue on the last day of Passover.
The gunman, John Earnest, 19, of nearby Rancho Penasquitos, was sentenced to life plus 30 years in federal prison in 2021. He also admitted to attempting to burn down the Dar-ul-Arquam mosque in Escondido, California.
By passing the city’s new law, the mayor wanted to send a message that “hate has no place in Poway.”
“This sends a clear message that hate litter that’s intended to frighten, intimidate, or harass members of any protected class will not be tolerated in Poway,” Mr. Vaus said. “It’s not just about being safe, it’s about feeling safe, and I believe this takes us a step in that direction.”
The ordinance is fairly simple, according to Poway City Attorney Alan Fenstermacher. It applies to the distribution of any materials meant to injure, harass, or oppress anyone based on a protected class, defined by federal and state law, including religion, race, and many other characteristics.
The ordinance was approved on an urgency basis, allowing it to go into effect the day after the city council’s first reading. Ordinances typically need two readings before they are officially adopted.
The city council’s four other members approved of the measure.
“I think it’s critically important that we take a hard stand against this type of despicable behavior,” councilman Peter De Hoff said.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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