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County hate crimes increased by 24 percent in 2015

LOS ANGELES — Following a seven-year downward trend, reported hate crimes in Los Angeles County numbered 483 last year — up from 390 such crimes in 2014, the county Commission on Human Relations announced Sept. 29.

According to its annual report — which defines a hate crime as one in which hatred or prejudice toward a victim’s race or ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation was a substantial factor — the county watchdog group said hate crimes last year jumped 24 percent from 2014, the largest number reported since 2011.

The escalation came as the number of hate crimes statewide increased by a far-smaller 10 percent in 2015, according to the survey.

“We are extremely concerned that reported hate crimes increased dramatically in 2015,” said Robin Toma, the commission’s executive director.

“The disturbing rise in bias-motivated crime indicates that despite the gains made by historically marginalized communities, bigoted attacks are still a daily occurrence — and that is unacceptable.”

As in past years, the largest number of hate crimes targeted blacks who represent only about 8.3 percent of county residents but were 58 percent of victims of racial hate crime. A significant factor driving the over-representation of black hate crime victims are racially motivated attacks by street gangs, mostly those with ties to the prison-based Mexican Mafia gang, according to the commission.

Other groups were targeted last year. Anti-Latino crimes jumped 69 percent, and there were increases in bigoted attacks on Jews, gay men, lesbians, Muslims, Asian Americans, Armenians and transgender women.

Anti-Muslim and Middle Eastern crimes spiked in November and December following the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and internationally.

“History has taught us that global events and political rhetoric directly impact hate activity,” the civil rights organization Advancing Justice-LA said in a statement. “In 2015, we witnessed rising hostility towards China on trade and economic issues and the tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, as well as presidential campaign rhetoric that both targeted China as an enemy and demonized Muslims as a community.

“We are fearful that the escalation of both dynamics in 2016 will lead to a continued surge in anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim hate activity,” the group stated.

Donald Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric does not bode well for next year’s survey, the commission’s Toma said.

“Trump’s dialogue has an impact — it creates an atmosphere that is conducive to bias,” he said. “I would not be surprised if next year’s report shows an increase in the numbers [for 2016].”

Consistent with previous years, transgender women experienced the highest rate of violence. All 18 of these crimes were of a violent nature, as were 84 percent of crimes targeting gay men and lesbians — the highest percentage since 2003.

“The over-representation of African Americans as victims of racial hate crimes, the high rates of violence experienced by LGBT victims and the spike in anti-Muslim and Middle Eastern hate crimes at the end of 2015 are reminders that our work is far from over,” Human Relations Commission President Isabelle Gunning said.

By comparison, 68 percent of racial crimes and only 21 percent of religious crimes involved violence, but the overall rate of violence rose slightly from 2014 and there were three attempted murders last year.

“This is troubling news that confirms the need to protect our residents of this county who deserve to live free of prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence,” said Hilda Solis, chair of the county Board of
Supervisors.

The report found that hate crimes occurred throughout the county, but the largest number of hate crimes took place in the San Fernando Valley, followed by the Metro region that stretches from West Hollywood to Boyle Heights.

The highest rate of bias-related crimes occurred in the Metro region, followed by the western part of the county that includes a number of affluent cities. The western region was the site of a large number of anti-Jewish vandalisms.

Examples of crimes against the Jewish community include swastikas or Nazi references that evoke a particularly emotional response in the Jewish community.

“It is disturbing to see this two-year trend of increased anti-Jewish hate crimes, both in L.A. County and in the state of California,” said Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind of the Anti-Defamation League.

“We remain deeply concerned that African-Americans continue to be the most frequently targeted victims of hate crimes,” she said. “Half of reported hate crimes were racially motivated and African Americans were targeted in more than half of these cases, while making up only 8.3 percent of L.A. County’s population. We are also very troubled about the 47 percent increase in gender-motivated crimes, with 18 of them violent attacks against transgender women.”

The commission’s report was generated from data collected from sheriff and city police departments, school districts and community groups.

L.A. County Sheriff’s Executive Officer Neal Tyler said that the department has made outreach to all minority communities a priority.

“Hate crimes victimize each of us in the same way terrorism threatens our peace of mind, even for those not specifically targeted,” Tyler said.

“The [Sheriff’s Department] will continue our outreach efforts, our trust building, our investigative and enforcement activities, and our hate crime prevention undertakings, such as educating our youth.”

The 2016 release of the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics report, which contains nationwide 2015 data, is expected in November.

 

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