Editorial: Alleged hate crime shines harsh spotlight on SouthLake Tahoe
On the afternoon of July 19, a distraught man called the Tahoe Daily Tribune from his home in New York. He said he had recently spoken to his brother, 37, who described being attacked at El Dorado Beach the Saturday before, July 14.
The caller said his brother – who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution – said he was at the beach with his fiancée and the fiancée’s female cousin when the women were aggressively insulted by a couple, later identified as South Lake Tahoe residents Joseph and Georgia Silva.
The Silvas are white, the three others are American citizens of East Indian descent.
The brother’s call prompted a Tribune reporter to look into the matter.
According to South Lake Tahoe Police Sgt. Brad Williams, police officers cited and released the Silvas after the alleged attack. The couple were initially cited on suspicion of misdemeanor battery and committing a hate crime.
The incident, as verified by Williams, escalated to physical violence after the Silvas allegedly taunted the Indian women using “racial and sexually explicit names.” Williams said the Indian man, a San Francisco resident who was visiting the area, approached the Silvas and asked them to stop calling the women names.
The man was subsequently “mocked in a false foreign accent, called racially based, derogatory names, and Georgia Silva began throwing sand at him,” Williams said.
Williams added that when the man went to call police, Georgia Silva, 49, reportedly tackled him from behind, Joseph Silva, 53, kicked him in the face and both Silvas spat on him. Witnesses helped stop the attack, police said. The Indian man was treated and released from Barton Memorial Hospital, said South Lake Tahoe police officer Tony Broadfoot.
The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office soon jumped into the fray and has most recently filed felony charges against the Silvas, charging both with assault likely to produce great bodily injury, with a hate crime enhancement.
Georgia Silva is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of using force or threats to interfere with another’s civil rights. Both Silvas pleaded not guilty to the original charges.
According to the district attorney’s office, the attack left the Indian man with fractures to his face that will require facial surgery.
The Silvas appeared briefly in El Dorado County Superior Court Thursday and were notified their preliminary hearing had been postponed until Oct. 9. The hearing was to have taken place Thursday, but was rescheduled after prosecutors modified the criminal charges against the Silvas.
The couple declined to comment Thursday, and the victim of the alleged attack could not be reached for comment.
If the Silvas are found not guilty, they should be allowed to live their lives peacefully without lingering doubts about their culpability in the alleged incident. If, however, they are found guilty – and that’s a huge if – they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
As people in Louisiana are fond of saying: “Put ’em under the jail.”
Most visitors come here to relax, unwind and enjoy the majestic natural beauty of the area. And most are well-behaved, respectful and considerate. They certainly don’t expect to be taunted, spat on and physically attacked.
Hate crime is vile, vicious and cowardly.
There’s no excuse for it anywhere, and that certainly includes South Lake Tahoe.