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A Tale of Two Tattoos: Love and Hate Crime in Orange County, California

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 14/10/2015 Rick Williams

On September 7, 2015, 22-year-old mechanical engineering student Shayan Mazroei was fatally stabbed in a racially-motivated attack outside of Patsy's Pub in Laguna Niguel, California by Craig Tanber -- a known white supremacist, documented gang member, and convicted murderer. Tanber's female companion, Elizabeth Thornberg, allegedly instigated the fight, waited with Tanber outside to ambush Shayan, and helped them both escape. He has not been charged with a hate crime, and she has not been charged. At all.
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For the past few weeks, my Iranian-American girlfriend and I have been working with Shayan's family. While they were organizing the funeral for their only son, we started the petition and social media campaign for them. They couldn't bring themselves to look at the Internet. We reached out to attorneys and national organizations for support. While my girlfriend sat in their home writing press releases, she was served halva, the main Persian dish for memorials, by Shayan's grandmother. She ate it while fighting back tears. His mom led her to Shayan's bedroom and gave her his mechanical engineering textbooks, asking her to take them away from their home. She encouraged her to give them to students who want to become engineers. Because now he never would.
Shayan's girlfriend of four years told my girlfriend, fondly at first, while looking at a bottle of wine, that she bought it with him while on a road trip. She didn't have the heart to drink it now because they will never share it.
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We kept talking, thinking about what the loss of life really means. It's not just the end of Shayan's time here on earth. It's the end of a future he would have created, a career that would have flourished, a father he may have been to children that will never be. Loss of life is not as much about breath leaving the body -- but the beauty the world is robbed of for years to come.
One thing that's not absent in this terrible situation is love. Conversely, miraculously -- in the face of such hate and cruelty -- love is amplified.
During this ordeal, countless individuals have been putting so much time and energy organizing around the #JusticeforShayan effort. But the phone calls, the emails, the grieving, the meetings, the calls to action -- all of it fades with one look at Shayan's parents. Everything becomes still. When the people wishing his parents condolences have left the family home, when it's quiet and all that's left is the deafening silence, that's when it really hits home. The void.
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How can a mother cope? To have a child grow inside her, to give birth, to nurse that baby, to put band-aids on his little scraped knee, to have her heart drop to her stomach when he accidentally falls, to watch him grow up and become excited about the world, to see him fall in love and, at 22 years old, feel that her job of raising him is done -- to let her guard down and smile at the man she helped make.
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Who would think that at that stage in life, you would have to be worried about such a hateful act occurring to your only child on a warm night in September, at the end of a gorgeous summer, in an affluent and safe city like Laguna Niguel?
That's how hate works. It hides in plain sight. Even in the perfect beach city towns of South Orange County. Shayan was singled out because Craig Tanber and Elizabeth Thornberg hated that he was different from what they knew. Shayan's tattoo, which they abhorred, ironically said Eshgh, or "Love," in Farsi script, a language they didn't understand. Hate started the fight. Hate called a happy, loving young man a "terrorist," because he looked Middle Eastern. Hate killed Shayan.
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The tattoo on the chest of Craig Tanber, the 37-year-old self-described white supremacist charged with murdering Shayan, speaks of his deep hatred. It reads, "PEN1," which is short for Public Enemy Number One, a notorious Orange County-based white supremacist gang that thrives on the streets and in California prisons, a gang already on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A man bearing a symbol of hate murdered a man bearing a symbol of love.
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And what about Elizabeth Thornberg? By all accounts, she allegedly still has her job working for the County of Orange. That night, she spit on Shayan, called him a "terrorist" and a "f-cking Iranian," and harassed him for the tattoo on his forearm. She pushed Shayan and antagonized Craig Tanber -- whom she knew was convicted of killing a man in 2004 with a claw hammer, along with other members of his White Supremacist gang -- to join and escalate the fight. (Tanber had recently been released from prison three months prior to his altercation with Shayan, thanks to a plea deal by the Orange County DA).
Thornberg waited outside for Shayan and made sure that whatever damage Tanber could inflict, he and she would run. She purportedly drove the getaway car and helped Tanber flee the scene. Accessory to murder? Assault? Aiding and abetting? Is the microphone of justice even on?
In Orange County, one of the largest Iranian-American communities in the United States, looking Middle Eastern -- looking different -- is something that describes more people there than just about anywhere. Those with foreign-sounding names know that this didn't just happen to the Mazroei family. It happened to all of their families.
Orange County is home to some of the most violent white supremacist gangs in the nation. The roots can be traced back more than a century. In 1906, Santa Ana's Chinatown was burned down. Since the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan had a strong and visible presence in several cities such as Huntington Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente. Throughout the 1990s, Huntington Beach was considered the skinhead capital of the region. Wade Michael Page, who only a few short years ago shot up a Sikh temple killing six people in Wisconsin, belonged to an Orange County-based, white supremacist band.
By treating this incident as an isolated act of violence, the Orange County District Attorney callously rids authorities of the responsibility to address the fact that white supremacists have been terrorizing Orange County for decades. It's the same systemic racism and denial that has kept Tanber and Thornberg from being properly charged with they hate crimes they perpetrated.
Orange County District Attorney, Larry Yellin stated in an interview,

Convicting Tanber of a hate crime would not make much of a difference in his punishment, given that the defendant already faces 76 years to life in prison as a third striker... It's legally insignificant.

This is exactly what systemic racism looks like.
I'm white. I'll never know what racism feels like. My voice will always be heard first and loudest, so maybe it's time I put my glaring white privilege to good use. Maybe more white people will realize they can too.
Besides caring deeply about this issue and the suffering of Shayan's family and community, I'm also writing this is because my girlfriend cannot. She was warned not to make her identity publicly known for fear of retaliation by PEN1, which has been known to keep a hit list of law enforcement members and engage in witness tampering, intimidation, and harassment. These may be my words, but this is her reality, and the reality of many others who have been targeted by such racist entities.
Tanber's going away, but the manner in which we put away criminals is important in the eyes of justice, as well as recognition of the problem, the brutality, the suffering, and the systemic and overt racism at play is paramount.
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Shayan was not born to be the face of a social justice campaign, but that's what he is now. Let's love Shayan's memory, comfort the family and girlfriend he left behind. And let's, as a community, as a family of Americans, ensure that he gets the justice he deserves. Shayan is an American son. An American boyfriend. An American student. A kid. This happened to all of us.
2015-10-13-1444711280-9241354-Image8.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-13-1444711280-9241354-Image8.jpg Rick Williams is a writer and creative director from Rock Hill, South Carolina and has lived in New York City for eight years. He attended the University of Georgia in Athens, GA and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, GA.

SHY © Provided by The Huffington Post SHY

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