As police investigate apparent hate crime, LA community turns to the Web to rally support

By Michael Carney , written on February 6, 2015

From The News Desk

For all the hatred that is too often spread online, the Internet also has the power to connect and heal. I’ve come face to face with that power over the last 24 hours and it’s been incredibly uplifting.

The story begins with a tragic event in the coastal LA community of Manhattan Beach, that saw a firebomb, in the form of a gas-filled flaming tire, thrown through the window of one of the neighborhood's few African American families late Wednesday night. Ronald Clinton, and his three children were all home asleep at the time. Alerted by their dog and smoke alarms, everyone escaped safely, but their home suffered an estimated $200,000 in damage.

The Clintons and their neighbors are convinced (seemingly with good reason) that this was a hate crime, while local, state, and federal police are still investigating. Officially, the blaze has been labeled “suspicious.”

"The evidence we've collected so far indicates the fire was not accidental," Manhattan Beach Fire Chief Robert Espinosa tells ABC 7.

This is apparently not the first incident of harassment the family has faced, although nothing near this severe. Wednesday’s latest attack appears out of another era and another place, and certainly not the kind of thing that one expects in the quiet, affluent town of Manhattan Beach.

“It’s very personal. Someone literally came to my front door,” Clinton tells KTLA 5. “I wake up, I see flames, I see somebody with, I believe, the intent to hurt or kill.”

But amid all the sadness and outrage, local community members have turned to the Web to rally support. Leading the charge in this effort is Science Inc co-founder and Billshrink CEO Peter Pham.

“I cried when I first talked to them,” Pham tells me.

Pham and his neighbors, many of which are similarly involved in the local technology and venture capital ecosystem, leveraged their considerable collective networks on Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness. The Manhattan Beach area network on the Nextdoor platform has nearly 800 members, and has played an integral role in this campaign.

Pham setup a Fundly crowdfunding campaign for the Clintons, first with the goal of helping them pay for temporary housing and the extensive damages to their home. Following the welcome news that their insurance will cover these expenses, the plan is now to divide the funds raised equally between a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for this attack and to pay for a private investigator to look into the incident. Any remaining funds will be donated to a charity of the Clintons’ choice, according to Pham. (Anyone with information about the fire os asked to call fire Investigator Mike Murrey at 310-345-0467.)

As of the time of publication, the campaign has raised more than $20,500 from 186 donors in just 24 hours. Among the largest donors are prominent venture capitalist Chris Sacca and Lakers part-owner Jeanie Buss, both of whom live in Manhattan Beach. Other members of the technology community from around the country have also donated, while helping Pham spread the word. Fundly founder and CEO Dennis Hu saw Pham promoting the campaign on Twitter and assisted by highlighting it on the company’s home page. Nextdoor also reached out to Pham and assisted him in connecting with local news outlets.

The local Manhattan Beach community is rallying around the Clintons with more than financial support. The neighborhood is holding a candle light vigil tonight at 6pm.

It’s terrible that all too often it takes times of tragedy to reveal the goodness of people and the power of technology to connect us. But if there’s a silver lining in this sad story, its that the Clintons know now more than ever that hundreds of neighbors and even more strangers are willing to stand up and support them in times of need. That and Manhattan Beach is making it clear that it will not tolerate hatred in its community.

[Image via MyFoxLA]