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Hate Crimes Surged By 24 Percent Across L.A. County In 2015

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Hate crimes against African Americans, Latinos, Jews and transgender women spiked dramatically in 2015, according to a new report from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. The commission, which releases an annual tally, reported a 24 percent jump in incidents from the year before.

"I was surprised by the extent of the growth in hate crimes," Robin Toma, executive director for the Commission on Human Relations, told the Daily News. "Twenty-four percent is a big jump." The sharp rise is also a reversal from the previous trend: according to the commission, hate crimes had been trending downward for the previous seven years.

It's a scary time to be alive, even here in Los Angeles. This year's findings were dark across the board, with increases in crimes motivated by race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender/gender identity. No corner of the county was left unscathed.

The greatest number of hate crimes took place in the San Fernando Valley, followed by the metro area that spans from West Hollywood to Boyle Heights. A sizable number of hate crimes also occurred on the Westside, which was the site of a large number of incidents of anti-Jewish vandalism. The majority of hate crimes occurred in public places, followed by residences, businesses, schools, and religious sites.

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Half of all hate crimes were racially motivated, and African Americans were disproportionately victimized. Although African Americans account for just 8.3 percent of the county's population, a staggering 58 percent of racially-motivated hate crimes targeted African Americans. According to the report, racially-motivated attacks by street gangs, primarily those with ties to the prison-based Mexican Mafia gang, were a significant factor driving the overrepresentation of African American hate crime victims.

Gender-motivated crimes also increased, rising 47 percent from last year. Transgender women experienced the highest rate of violence.

Religious crimes made up 20 percent of the total number of incidents. Even though anti-Muslim crimes spiked after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the vast majority of the religious crimes were still antisemitic in nature, with anti-Jewish incidents accounting for more than 70 percent of the total religious incidents.

"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," Commission President Isabelle Gunning said in a statement.

We asked Marshall Wong, one of the report's principal authors, about what was driving the surge in hate crimes, and if it had anything to do with the heightened political climate. Wong, a Senior Intergroup Relations Specialist with the Commission, told LAist that there would be no way of measuring the correlation, and that Trump's name had only been invoked (in graffiti) in one of the crimes.

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"But," he said, "it is possible. And it would be commonsensical that the more people hear divisive rhetoric in the news on a daily basis, the more socially acceptable it becomes. People who share those kind of sentiments might feel emboldened, and like their intolerance is legitimized, because they hear people in the highest circles of power agreeing with them."