Hate crimes surged in Los Angeles County in 2021 to their highest level since 2002, according to a report released Wednesday by the county Commission on Human Relations.
The report noted 786 victims of hate crimes, a 23% increase over 2020. The crimes overwhelmingly included acts of violence, and more than half were spurred by racism. Blacks, Latinos, Jews and LGBTQ individuals were among the most-targeted groups.
According to the report, 49 hate crime cases were referred to the district attorney's office in 2021. The office filed charges in 42 cases. Of the adults prosecuted, 31 were charged with felonies and nine with misdemeanors.
“We really feel it’s necessary to not hide the ugly reality of hate violence in our communities, which is what these findings and numbers represent,” said Robin Toma, the executive director of the Human Relations Commission, at a news conference on the report, which the county office has produced annually since 1980.
Toma attributed part of the increase to the fact that the county has made it easier to report hate crimes in recent years. In 2020, the county launched its LA vs Hate initiative, which includes a government hotline for reporting hate crimes. Constituents can reach it by calling 211.
But a rise in political polarization and violence also likely fueled the increase. In the last 11 months, the country has seen a massacre of Black shoppers at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store and a rampage at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo.
L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Wednesday that the country was in the throes of a "hate crisis.”
Dist. Atty. George Gascón said the uptick in hate crimes has continued through 2022. He said his office has filed a record number of criminal cases involving hate crimes this year, including against a woman who assaulted a 53-year-old transgender woman in Inglewood and a woman in Long Beach who made racially charged threats against her neighbor.
“The numbers are clearly troubling,” Gascón said. “I have to say that I’m deeply disturbed about what we’re seeing.”
Compared with 2020, hates crimes were up in every category, according to the report.
There were 25 more hate crimes motivated by religion: Of the 111 religious crimes, three-quarters targeted Jews.
In addition, there were 18 more crimes related to people’s sexual orientation: Of 140 victims of such crimes, 85% targeted gay men.
And there were 67 more hate crimes motivated by race. Of the 473 racial hate crimes, nearly half the victims were Black, in a county where Black residents make up just 9% of the population.
The county also recorded 77 anti-Asian hate crime victims — the most in at least two decades. During the pandemic, Asian Americans have seen a surge in violent attacks as they have been scapegoated for the spread of COVID-19. In almost a quarter of the incidents in L.A. County, the perpetrator of the attack blamed the victim for the pandemic, according to the report.
The report laid out details of a handful of the reported hate crimes.
In January 2021, a maintenance worker discovered a Santa Clarita elementary school covered in antisemitic graffiti.
A few weeks later, someone threatened a Hollywood-based LGBTQ organization, saying they planned to shoot people at the facility, and used a racial slur.
A month after that, a driver in West Los Angeles threw a metal coil and a bottle at an Iranian woman, yelling insults as she pulled alongside her.
The county’s report focuses solely on 2021 and does not include any data from 2022. But experts say it’s unlikely the trend has changed.
According to Los Angeles Police Department data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, hate crimes in Los Angeles rose by 12% in the first 10 months of 2022 over the same period in 2021. Hate crimes targeting Black people rose 38% — to 168 from 122 — and anti-Jewish hate crimes went up 13%, to 80 from 71.
Brian Levin, the director of the center, said he expects the number of hate crimes to continue rising into 2023 with high-profile figures such as Kanye West openly spouting antisemitic remarks online and in interviews. Two months ago, a hate group waved a banner on a 405 Freeway overpass in Los Angeles in support of the rapper’s comments.
“Its not just the kind of antisemitic attack now that occurs where someone wants to be anonymous in a dark alley,” Levin said. “This is an in-your-face brazen type of antisemitism.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.