Latinos Get Hate Mail, Anthrax Scare

By By U Wire

By U Wire

BERKELEY, Calif.?The Center for Latin American Studies, an independent research center on the Berkeley campus, received a letter Tuesday allegedly containing racial slurs and suspicious white powder.

The incident is part of a string of hate letters received by Latino organizations throughout the Bay Area in recent days, three of which came to Berkeley, Calif., Monday.

The FBI is investigating an undisclosed number of these letters as hate crimes, FBI spokeswoman Nancy Duncan said.

“We’re working with local law enforcement in this matter,” Duncan said. “[All of the letters] appear similar in origin, but this is under investigation.”

A member of the center’s staff placed an emergency call to 911 at 9:32 a.m. Tuesday. The Berkeley Fire Department and UC police responded to the call.

Police evacuated the building and quarantined staff members Dionicia Ramos and Adolfo Ventura, who, according to Ramos, both had come in contact with the powder. They later were told to go home and shower.

The fire department’s Hazardous Materials Unit entered the building and determined the substance was not anthrax or any other dangerous biological agent, according to UC police Capt. Bill Cooper.

The substance still could be a dangerous chemical, Cooper said.

Staff member Melinda Peraza said the letter was in fact “racist.” She saw the letter but did not come into contact with it.

Police gave the center’s vice chairwoman Teresa Stojkov the final authority to reopen the center.

The center reopened at approximately 11 a.m. after the threat level was deemed a “very low risk,” UC spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said.

UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Library received a similar letter Tuesday. The letter was written in the same style and made a threatening reference to a white substance.

But an analysis found no suspicious substances on the letter, Cooper said.

Police are investigating a name on one of the letters that could be a possible signature of the perpetrator.

University spokeswoman Marie Felde said the university issued a warning Monday to campus organizations that could be potential targets.

All three of the other Berkeley groups that received letters were connected to the Latino community, Assistant Fire Chief David Orth said. He said at least one of the letters contained a white powder but declined to specify an exact number that did.

The hazardous materials unit also responded to the three calls. They evacuated the buildings, determined the structures were safe and allowed people to re enter within a few hours of the discovery.

Since Saturday, four letters also have shown up in San Francisco’s Latino community, San Francisco police Inspector Anna Brown said.

Brown said the language in the letters was anti-Latino but appeared to be protected under the First Amendment. Two of the letters, however, contained a white powder, which turned the incidents into hate crimes, she said.

The FBI is investigating the San Francisco letters and the Berkeley letters as related incidents. UC police are cooperating in the investigation of the two letters containing white powder discovered on campus.

At Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting, Mayor Shirley Dean said, “Hate is not acceptable in the city of Berkeley, and we are united against these attacks of terrorism.”