City responds to hate crimes at El Jardin Santuario

El Jardín Santuario, located on the corner of 11th and F streets, is a community garden here in Arcata, which began as a project in February 2021 during the pandemic. El Jardín Santuario is a collaboration between Cooperation Humboldt and Centro del Pueblo (CdP), a volunteer organization that focuses on
supporting the Latine community and advocating for the rights of immigrants.

From July of 2022 until December of 2023, El Jardín Santuario had experienced a regular onslaught of vandalism and related incidents. The first incident occurred on July 21, 2022. The sign in front of the community garden promoting the community-driven space was vandalized, with the words “AMERICA” and “USA.”

Brenda Pérez is Centro del Pueblo’s Executive Director and the leader of El Jardín Santuario. She recalls waking up the next day heartbroken at the sight of the vandalism. Pérez explained in a recent interview that the manner in which the sign was vandalized stunned her the most. It was deliberate and marked in a way that crossed out the Mixtecan, the indigenous language of Mexico. According to Pérez, the vandalism “was an indicative of the rejection to any expression of diversity.”

What happened to the garden that month drove Pérez and CdP to involve the city and the police.

Since the first incident in July of 2022, Jardín Santuario has experienced a total of 13 incidents. According to an Arcata Police Department (APD) incident verification report. These reports include theft of cameras and lights, vandalization of property, a broken gate, locked gates, damaged corn, and garbage thrown by the front entrance.

In a recent interview with Mayor Meredith Matthews, she explained that the crimes are in fact, considered hate crimes.

“I would consider it a hate crime, and I believe that the APD is also considering it a hate crime,” said Matthews.

The last incident occurred on December 9, 2023. According to APD, “an unknown male subject dropped off multiple bags of feces at the garden.” This was the night before El Jardín Santuario was supposed to host a volunteer day, a time usually reserved for celebration of the volunteers’ accomplishments in the garden space.

The city met with CdP in January of this year to address the most recent hate crime and to develop a plan to counteract the attacks on the garden.

Gathered at that meeting was Mayor Matthews, the city manager, two representatives from the police department, representatives from Equity Arcata and
members of the sanctuary garden.

El Jardin Santuario’s new signs as of March 2024. | Photo by Ben Hernandez

“We all sat around the table, and we came up with some things we could do in the short term, things we could do in the mid term, and things we could do in the long term,” said Matthews.

Signs were posted on March 30 outside the garden in an effort to deter vandalism. The signs are a collaboration between CdP and the city. The first sign’s purpose is “to condemn hatred” and to clarify the city’s support of the garden as a sanctuary.

The second sign has an anonymous tip line for any information regarding the incidents.

Matthews is also the executive director of the chamber of commerce. In her capacity there, she also has given CdP an honorary membership to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce.

“I am committed to work with Brenda and either help her throw events in the garden to bring visibility or just share with the community at large what Centro del Pueblo is doing,” said Matthews.

Arcata became a sanctuary city in 2017, and since then the city has limited its willingness to help with enforcement of federal immigration laws. As demonstrated in Arcata’s city ordinance NO. 1490, “the City of Arcata’s Mayor and City Council hereby affirm and express that the core values of the City of Arcata include, regardless of nationality or citizenship status, creating a climate of welcome and inclusiveness, protecting and preserving the values of democracy and freedom, and respecting the human dignity and human rights of all persons.” A “Sanctuary Day” is also in the works, where CdP will discuss whether Arcata really is a sanctuary city.

According to Matthews, more police presence was not the answer to the attacks on the garden. “The idea of having so much police presence didn’t make a lot of people feel comfortable so we continued to look for other ways to make everybody feel very safe there.”

Centro del Pueblo volunteers who help with gardening and maintenance of El Jardín Santuario. | Photo by Ben Hernandez

“I think it’s interesting how we have so many gardens in town, but ours seems to have been the only one who’s suffered from over a dozen hate crimes in a year,” said Cate Be, a regular volunteer at El Jardín Santuario, “Even though we were public about it, verbal about it, we didn’t really get any help from the police or the city until we actually took our bodies to city hall two times in one month.”

Several CdP volunteers expressed their frustrations at the lack of presence from community leaders. They insisted that physical presence is paramount to the protection of the garden.

“What is assuring is that the hate crimes have decreased in frequency…and I think it’s because our presence here has been stronger,” said Be.

As summer approaches, CdP and El Jardín Santuario are planning for the future and are intent on becoming a stronger organization with deeper community ties despite the vandalism that occurred last year.

So far, CdP is planning a welcoming event in August for Cal Poly Humboldt students, as well as Artistas del Santuario which is an event that will include music, dances, theater, and a potential mural unveiling.

For more information about El Jardín Santuario and upcoming events, follow @sanctuarygardencdpueblo or @centrodelpueblo on Instagram, or visit cdpueblo.com.

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