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Tolerance Spoken HereNo news has been the best news in Hillcrest since September 11. While 40 anti-Arab hate crimes in San Diego were under investigation in the month after the terrorist attacks, none was reported in Hillcrest. The community, say Arab- and Afghan-American business owners there, has been gloriously supportive.
“They’ve been great,” says Mounir Benchekroun, the manager at Arabian restaurant Aladdin. “They shook our hands; asked if we had any problems. I don’t want to say it’s been normal, but normal as it can be.”
Tolerance is a trademark of the community, says Bob Heider, organizer of Citizens Patrol, a large-scale neighborhood watch program in Hillcrest and North Park. The Hillcrest community embraced diversity in the 1960s, survived waves of hate crimes in the early ’90s and now takes the live-and-let-live tradition very seriously.
“Hillcrest is a unique community, a very diverse community,” Heider says. “People have a real strong identity living and working [here]. Since the attacks against the gay community we had in 1992, it’s been a natural thing to rally around and support everybody.”
So when Khyber Pass, an Afghan restaurant, received about 15 threatening calls the evening of the terrorist attacks, the community took an active role in making sure threats were as far as it went. Police in Hillcrest spent the next few days closely monitoring the restaurants. After that, Hillcrest community relations officer Rick Edgil began monitoring any possible outlets for vented anger, including the neighborhood’s Jewish centers. Since the initial threat calls, he says, “everything has been cool.
“The community as a whole has really been supporting them,” Edgil says. “We’ve taken on an accepting attitude for a long time. We are so tolerant, so laid back, it’s a safe place for anybody.”
Ehsan Akbar, manager at Khyber Pass—which Akbar says has been even busier than before the attacks—is one of those who feels safe now. “We were worried,” he says, “but people understand we’re not anything other than Americans now.”