Two northern California women targeted in possible hate crime

The women were sprayed with a colorless, odorless liquid from a water gun while being told to "leave."

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (far right) is shown at a United Against Hate summit in Fresno, California. / Sunita Sohrabji photo/courtesy of Ethnic Media Services

MARTINEZ, California — Two South Asian American walking to their car in this suburban town found themselves victims of a possible hate crime, as a car rolled up alongside them and began spraying large quantities of liquid from a water gun while yelling the phrase “leave.”

“We just stood there. We were so dazed, we didn’t realize what had just happened,” said one of the victims, who is Indian American, and asked New India Abroad to use her nickname Jenny, fearing retribution by the suspects. The other victim, Zena, is Bangladeshi American. Jenny has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area her entire life, and said she has never previously faced a hate incident or crime.

According to Jenny, as the two women exited the coffee shop at about 8:50 pm on July 6, a car going in the opposite direction stopped. A window rolled down from the back seat and the suspect began copiously spraying the women while shouting “leave,” and then sped away. 

“Zena was completely soaked,” said Jenny, whose upper body was drenched in the incident. “We were panicked about what was on our skin,” she said, describing the liquid as colorless and odorless. 

Initially, the pair thought it might just be water. But shortly after the attack, Zena, who suffers from perioral dermatitis, felt her face burning. Within minutes, her face started getting more inflamed and swollen. Jenny found her arm itching and rashy.

Both women were wearing t-shirts, shorts, and sandals. Jenny was also wearing her religiously-mandated khara. 

Martinez’s population is overwhelmingly White. The victim said she often goes to her favorite coffee shop there — the Dutch Rose — but added, “I’m not going to be walking around in that area any more. I was born here, and I’ve lived here all my life. I know I’ve always been looked at differently, but I’ve never faced anything like this before.”

Martinez Police Department Commander Patrick Salamid confirmed to New India Abroad that a police report had been filed by both victims. “We are actively investigating this incident,” he said. Asked if the case was being investigated as a hate crime, Salamid responded: “If the facts lead us in that direction, we will investigate the incident as a hate crime as defined by the California Penal Code. But we haven’t established those facts yet.”

Tara Patwardhan, a friend of Jenny and Zena who alerted NIA to the incident, lives in Newark, in San Francisco’s East Bay Area. Newark, and the neighboring towns of Fremont and Union City, are home to one of the largest concentrations of Indian Americans. 

“I always felt like this is a community I can walk around in. For something like this to happen in the Bay Area is surprising,” she said. “I hope the police catch the perpetrators. But I also want people to have a greater understanding that hate crimes can happen in these areas."

Last week, the California Attorney General’s office released the 2023 Hate Crime in California report, an annual publication that breaks down hate crime data in the state by ethnicity, county, and several other metrics. Overall levels of hate crimes decreased by 7.1 percent from 2,120 in 2022 to 1,970 in 2023. 

Martinez, which is in Contra Costa County, reported 4 hate crimes in 2023. Overall, 62 offenses involving 59 victims were reported in Contra Costa County in 2023. 

The California Civil Rights Department has created a 24 hour hotline, (833) 866-4283 or 833-8-NO-HATE, where hate crimes or incidents can be reported in one of over 200 languages.









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