After three years of decline, reported hate crimes in Los Angeles County increased by 15 percent last year.
An annual report released last week by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations (LACCHR) shows that hate crimes of all categories rose in 2011, though they remained at the second-lowest level in more than two decades. Incidents of reported hate crime grew to 489, compared with 427 in 2010.
The Los Angeles County findings mirror figures from Orange County, released in August by the Orange County Human Relations Commission (OCHRC), which documented a 14 percent increase in hate crimes in 2011 following four straight years of decline.
“Of course we’re concerned any time there’s an increase in hate crimes, but if you look at the big picture, this was the second lowest number of hate crimes reported in 22 years,” said LACCHR senior intergroup relations specialist Marshall Wong, who authored the report.
“That’s a small bump up if you look at the numbers from four years before,” he added. “While we are closely monitoring any significance the uptick might have, overall, we think the news is very positive.”
In Orange County, with a smaller population and fewer incidents of hate crime than Los Angeles County, James Armendaris, OCHRC police community reconciliation program manager, pointed out that the percentage of increase reflected in the report reflects an increase of eight incidents, from 56 in 2010 to 64 in 2011.
“We’re always concerned whenever there’s an increase,” he said, “(but) in Orange County, because our numbers are very low, we’re very careful before we read anything into it.”
In light of the increase in hate crimes in Orange County found by the council’s report, “We’re very careful to make sure we aren’t sounding an alarm that there’s a major incident, however we do carefully monitor what’s going on,” Armendaris said.
It was too early to say whether the statistical trend was continuing in 2012.
Over the two decades in which the collection of hate crime data has been legally mandated, hate crimes peaked in Los Angeles County in 2001, with 1,031 reported incidents, according the LACCHR’s recently released report.
Southern California’s observed increase in hate crimes contrasts with a small decrease in total hate crimes in 2011, as reported by the California Attorney General’s Office. Statewide, reported hate crimes dropped from 1,107 in 2010 to 1,060 in 2011, a decrease of 4.2 percent.
“We don’t have any information that would suggest why that might be,” Wong said. “We think that there are normal fluctuations from year to year which we shouldn’t focus on too much.”
Race, ethnicity or national origin-based hate crimes were up 13 percent, accounting for half of all reported hate crimes in Los Angeles County, the report found. Fifty-four percent of the hate crimes perpetrated based on race, ethnicity or national origin involved violence.
Blacks were the most-victimized group, accounting for 60 percent of the race-related hate crimes. Hate crimes targeting blacks were up 24 percent, while those targeting Latinos declined by 34 percent, despite immigration at the southern border being a highly controversial political issue.
Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation in Los Angeles County also rose by 13 percent, comprising 25 percent of reported hate crimes, according to the LACCHR report. These crimes were the most likely to be violent, at 71 percent. The vast majority of the attacks, 84 percent, targeted gay men.
The biggest jump in hate crimes were based on religion, up 24 percent in 2011 to 94 incidents, compared with 76 in 2010. They comprised 18 percent of all hate crimes reported, and 77 percent were anti-Jewish. Twenty percent of religion-motivated hate crimes involved violence.
A single anti-semitic serial vandal in the Santa Monica-area played a significant part in skewing the statistics, Wong said.
Gang members are believed responsible for 12 percent of all hate crimes in Los Angeles County, up from 9 percent the previous year. “In the great majority of these cases, Latino gang members targeted black victims,” the LACCHR report noted.
Hate crimes linked to white supremacists increased by 54 percent to 103 reported incidents, up from 67 the previous year. The majority of these crimes involve graffiti vandalism depicting swastikas or other hate symbols. White supremacists are believed responsible for 21 percent of the 2011 hate crimes, compared to 18 percent in 2010.
In a written statement, LACCHR President Kathay Feng said the numbers regarding gang and white supremacist activity are alarming.
“This means that potentially a full third of hate crimes are committed by ‘mission offenders’ who believe that they are part of a larger cause to terrorize entire communities,” she said.
But Wong pointed out that while hate crimes tied to gangs and white supremacists grew significantly in 2011, they declined by similar margins in 2010.
While Cal State Fullerton student Stevan Antimo, an undeclared freshman, said he was not especially alarmed by the statistics, they are still thought provoking.
“What could have caused it? It just makes you think,” he said.