A walk around Lake Chabot on a Sunday afternoon provides a glimpse into the stunning diversity of Castro Valley and the Bay Area.
Families from around Alameda County, with roots from all over the world, gather for celebrations. You may see children playing or enjoying a birthday party. You may hear a mariachi band. You see people going for a hike. Someone may pause to take in the beauty of the lake, to meditate, to pray.
Last Sunday afternoon, the harmony of our community gathering place at Lake Chabot was interrupted.
East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) confirmed that Rasheed Albeshari and his friends, practicing Muslims, were praying, when they were confronted by Denise Slader last Sunday around 3:00 pm at Lake Chabot Regional Park, according to Public Information Office Carolyn Jones. Coffee was thrown and Albeshari was hit with an umbrella. You’ve likely seen the video. “You are very deceived by Satan,” Slader said in the video. “You have nothing but hate.”
“It is perfectly legal to pray, not legal to hit people,” Jones said. “This is a very diverse place. Everyone is tolerant of each other. ”
- Ayn Wieskamp, President of the EBRPD Board of Directors called the incident “terrible” at a board meeting on Thursday. “I don’t know how we go about addressing this,” she said. “We need to be cognizant and talk about how we live together. This needs to be a safe place for everyone.”
- Dennis Waespi, also an EBRPD Board Member and a Castro Valley resident said he was “appalled” by what happened at Lake Chabot. “All people are welcome and encouraged to come to our parks to relax, recreate and worship as they choose. I personally consider the parks to be a refuge from our increasingly crazy world.”
Congressman Eric Swalwell offered support of the Muslim community in a statement to Castro Valley Matters:
Muslim Americans are an integral part of East Bay communities like Castro Valley. They are our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. The hateful language and behavior of this individual at Lake Chabot Regional Park was shameful and does not represent our American values of freedom of religion and tolerance. As a former hate crimes prosecutor at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office I look forward to this incident being investigated and justice being served.
Other Easy Bay political leaders who represent Castro Valley spoke out against the incident.
- Assemblymember Bill Quirk: “My district is a community of tolerance. It saddens me to see hate speech in our community. I stand by, and with, my Muslim friends.”
- Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley: “This is not the type of behavior that should be displayed in Castro Valley.”
Salim Mastan, a founding member and a director of the Islamic Center of Fremont, estimated that about 2,000 – 3,000 Muslims live in Castro Valley. “There are very many good Muslims in America,” he said. “A Muslim American is American as his neighbor.”
The Bay Area has one of the largest populations of Muslims in the United States and is estimated to be 250,000 (about 3.5 percent of the local population) according to “The Bay Area Muslim Study,” a report issued by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. About 37 percent of the Bay Area Muslim population lives in Alameda County.
Mastan cited the recent “negative press” about Muslims as the catalyst for the Lake Chabot incident. On December 2, a husband and wife killed fourteen and injured 22 in a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. “The most important thing to understand is that we condemn the killing of innocent people,” Mastan said. “Our sympathies are with the families in San Bernardino.”
Pastor Arlene Nehring of Eden United Church of Christ provided a statement to Castro Valley Matters.
As a Christian, I share a common ancestor in the faith with Jews and Muslims. That ancestor is Abraham. We children of Abraham worship the same God. Our differences have to do with whose prophetic teachings we hold most sacred. The acts of terrorism that occurred in San Bernadino were made by extremists. Those extremists have no more in common with Islam, than Jesus had in common with the KKK. In this sacred season, I pray that each and everyone of us–regardless of our faith tradition–may find a way to light a candle for peace and recommit our lives to the challenging and essential work of reconciliation and healing, in our homes, in our communities and in our global village.
One of our missions at Castro Valley Matters is around placemaking — creating and sustaining community spaces. We want our community spaces to be open and welcome to everyone in Castro Valley. We will continue to speak up for the right of all to enjoy our beautiful public spaces in peace. In addition, we invite residents of Castro Valley to submit commentaries about their experiences in Castro Valley to our Valley Voices page.