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Criminal Justice

Hate Crimes in LA County Jumped 20% in 2020, Were More Racially Motivated

A colored map of L.A. County with a legend of hate crimes committed by type: race, disability, gender, sexual orientation
2020 Los Angeles County Hate Crimes
(Florentino Bernal Jr., L.A. County Commission on Human Relations)
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Human interaction plummeted in 2020 as pandemic-related stay-at-home orders shuttered schools and businesses. Yet a new report from Los Angeles County shows people still found ample ways to commit hate crimes, which rose 20% to 635 — the largest number since 2008.

County officials attributed the increase to a tumultuous year that saw protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and a polarizing presidential election, as well as the scapegoating of Asian Americans for the spread of the coronavirus.

“This was a perfect storm that brought into focus so many phenomena that tore at our society’s social fabric and surfaced many pre-existing prejudices, intergroup tensions and divisions,” said Robin Toma, executive director of the county’s Human Relations Commission, at a Wednesday press conference. The commission has issued an annual hate crimes report since 1980.

The increase in hate crimes mostly stems from a 53% jump in racially-motivated crimes, according to the report. In comparison, hate crimes related to gender, religion and disability fell by double-digit rates.

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Black residents have historically been overrepresented as hate crime victims and last year was no different. They made up 42% of racially-motivated hate crime victims, while comprising only 9% of the county population.

A bar chart in purple of hate crimes victim categories with victims who are Black the most numerous at the top, followed by Latino, white and Asian.
Racial Hate Crimes By Known Targeted Group
(L.A. County Commission on Human Relations)

By contrast, white residents have experienced proportionally fewer racial hate crimes. In 2020, they represented 12% of victims while making up 28% of L.A. County. But whites too saw a spike in racial targeting — the largest percentage increase, in fact, of any other racial hate crime victims. Anti-white crimes jumped from 22 to 50, or 127%.

The report’s authors called the increase in anti-white crimes “one of the most surprising findings,” and said it may have had to do with the racial tensions inflamed after a Minnesota police officer killed Floyd in May 2020. Suspects in some of the anti-white cases brought up the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the report.

Across the board, hate crimes in 2020 were more violent in nature; violent crimes rose for a third consecutive year, from 65% to 68%. It was the highest rate of violence reported in 17 years.

While the number of anti-transgender crimes declined 24% to 32, 94% of those cases involved physical force — the highest rate of violence among victims in all categories.

One of the most violent hate crimes targeted a transgender woman in MacArthur Park who was stabbed 13 times by MS-13 gang members. Three suspects were later arrested and one has been charged with attempted murder.

Other findings:

  • Latinos were the most likely of any racial/ ethnic group to be victims of violent racially-motivated crime. Anti-Latino crimes rose 58%, from 67 to 106. The rate per capita, however, is lower than for other groups because Latinos make up about half of the county's population.
  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders saw the largest increase in racially-motivated crimes against them since 2001. There were 44 anti-AAPI crimes, a 76% increase that the commission explored in a special report released last month.
  • In 56 hate crimes, suspects used anti-immigrant slurs, the largest number ever recorded in the county. Two-thirds of these crimes targeted Latinos and 20% targeted Asians.
  • Religious hate crimes declined 18%. Jewish residents continue to be targeted the most in this category, accounting for 88% of reported cases. In the majority of religious crimes, white supremacist ideology was evidenced — most frequently by swastikas.

According to the report, hate crimes per capita took place at the highest rate in the part of the county stretching from West Hollywood to Boyle Heights, followed by a western region that includes parts of West L.A., Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
The report’s authors acknowledge that their findings are only a partial picture of what’s happening in the county. It’s widely recognized by community and law enforcement groups that hate crimes are underreported for reasons such as fear of retaliation by suspects, bad past experiences with police, and language barriers.

They stressed the importance of reporting all incidents of hate to authorities. While most will not rise to the legal standard of a hate crime, even hate speech where no physical threat is made can be addressed in constructive ways through the staff of the county’s LA Versus Hate program, officials said.

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Toma noted the case of a Vietnamese American woman named Hong Lee, who was verbally attacked for her Asian heritage by another customer at an L.A. restaurant.

County staff “assisted her in filing a claim and obtaining an agreement that required the restaurant to post signage to make it clear it doesn't allow hate and harassment on their premises, and its employees were trained to intervene quickly and effectively whenever such harassment occurs,” Toma said.

Another initiative is underway in the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, which sees more than 50 felony cases filed annually by its Hate Crimes Unit.

L.A. DA George Gascón said a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security will fund a two-year pilot project that will provide counseling and anti-bias education for those convicted of hate crimes. Probation would take place within the targeted victims’ community.

“We know that it's increasingly more difficult for a human being to hate someone that they get to know on a personal level,” Gascón said.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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