The news of a man sexually assaulting three women — a 57-year-old, a 67-year-old and a 75-year-old, two on the same day, barely half an hour apart — in public places has shocked residents of Fremont, California.
The alarmed residents of the city hosted a community rally last month on May 24, sharing their concerns with the local administration, elected officials and the law enforcement.
“We live in a community and it happened right where we live,” said Sheila Mani, who led the rally initiative along with city Councilmember Teresa Cox, who represents District 6 where the incidents happened.
“There were lots of concerns and so we had to get together to get some answers from the lawmakers,” Mani said.
Vinita Verma, highly involved with the Fremont Unified School District said the first sexual assault happened just 300 yards from where she lives.
It was a big topic in Fremont Unified School Board meetings, she said. Parents are concerned about the safety of their children.
“We have seen Fremont change over the decades,” Verma said. “Fremont has been historically considered as a safe city but we have seen rising crime, much of which goes unreported.
“And the three incidents were really big — for any community they are very big,” said Verma.
“We have been talking about safety issues with the police department for over a year. Many women have been followed from the shopping hub to their homes. I don’t allow my kids go out alone.
“People had been doing really bad stuff,”she added. “There were verbal assaults and there were slurs made… It has been bad. It’s a matter of huge concern.”
Yanneth Contrada, a spokesperson for the Fremont police, told indica News that the attacker, Alexander Lomax, 28, booked for multiple felonies, including kidnapping, sexual battery and assault with an intent to rape, is being held without bail.
“Police Chief Kim Peterson and the whole department is in shock,” Contrada said. “It’s not an often occurrence where there is a stranger and sexually assaulting somebody in our community. It was a complete shock for all of us and it’s not common to happen in the middle of the afternoon.
Jhansi Kalapala, who was present at the community event, said the whole essence of the meeting was to know your neighbor.
“My concern was what is the next action plan, just knowing your neighborhood is not the answer,” Kalapala said. “We need preventive care to avert any incident. People don’t want to call 911 for non-emergency but the problem is the response rate is very slow. They come based on the priority.”
She cited the example of a recent incident in which someone plucked persimmon and was hitting the windows at 2am.
“We don’t know who, and we cannot open the doors,” Kalapala said. “I called the non-emergency number and by the time they came no one was there. And they say this is how it is, non-emergency means not non-emergency — there is no threat.”
Asked about safety measures taken by the city, police spokesperson Contrada pointed out that the Neighborhood Crime watch has been there for over 20 years.
“Currently they have 200 different neighborhood Block Captains — one person would represent 20 houses — and this is just another resource for community members to participate and gives ability to have somebody at the police department to reach out on a regular basis,” Contrada said.
She said to call police if community members see something suspicious.
“We have so many different languages in our city and it is important to let everybody know that we have the resources and translators on the phone to access. Because a lot of times people don’t want to call [fearing the language barrier]. We have interpreters to connect and assist everybody,” officer Contrada said.
Councilmember Teressa Cox told indica News that making people feel safe in their own community is the top priority.
She said the incidents highlight two things, the first being “as a society how we are going to handle mental health and people who have no homes.”
The second thing, she said, is that “Police cannot be everywhere so we have to know who belongs in our community and who doesn’t… and that is the part of the neighbors knowing each other.”
How about safety at the parks? That is where the attacks happened.
“So, it’s a combination and it’s got to be the neighbors knowing each other and joining the neighborhood crime watch group,” Councilmember Cox said. “The Block Captain is the one that manages the neighborhood crime watch group.”
She also asked people to report all incidents to the people.
She referred to an Indian-American woman who was physically assaulted on May 13 in a park but who has not yet reported the crime .
“I want to make sure we are working with the police,” Cox said. “They are following us and putting us at high priority. And we are vulnerable because we have three assaults against women.
“We are not near the city of Oakland or the city of Richmond — no offense, but there is a perception we have a lot of crime happening down here in our neighborhood,” she added.
“We’ve got to be more diligent and more vigilant.”