Hate by the numbers
Black/brown tensions likely to rise as hate crimes climb across the board
Syndicated columnist and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson issued what he called “grave warnings” of more violence on the way following reports by the county Commission on Human Relations of a five-year high in Los Angeles County hate crimes, largely due to rising tensions between Latinos and African Americans.
“There are many culprits to point at to explain the black/brown twist in racial violence,” Hutchinson said, reacting to portions of the commission’s annual report, which tallies 763 hate crimes committed last year — a 28 percent increase from 2006.
Among those culprits are “failing public schools, gang violence and drug rites of passage, the strain and dislocation of changing neighborhoods in South LA from predominantly black to brown, competition for jobs and services, immigration tensions and resentment, and cultural and racial ignorance and insensitivity,” Hutchinson said.
But African Americans and Latinos were not the only groups committing hate crimes and being victimized by them. Hate crimes against people for their sexual orientation and crimes committed against people because of religious differences were also on the rise, as were hate crimes committed by predominantly male gang members and young adults, with 91 percent of all hate crimes last year committed by males.
Ironically, the Sheriff’s Department reported a 6 percent decline in overall crime in 2007, and the LAPD reported a 5 percent drop during that time. But when it came to hate crimes, the numbers increased significantly, as did levels of violence, with 510 violent hate crimes this year, up from 368 in 2006.
Overall, 68 percent of all hate crimes countywide were ethnic- or race-related, 14 percent centered on sexual orientation and 13 percent were related to religion.
In Pasadena between December 2005 and August 2007, police investigated 69 attacks on young Latinos by African Americans. In the attacks, a phenomenon described by perpetrators as “Sock on a Mexican,” cell phones and other property were often stolen. Despite the high numbers, however, the department classified only a handful of those incidents as hate crimes, said Interim Chief Chris Vicino.
“While the department theorized the crimes were racially motivated, it was impossible to meet the legal criteria required to submit these cases as hate crimes as they lacked overt acts by the suspects that would prove race as the motive,” Vicino said.
Countywide, however, “Hate crimes based on race, sexual orientation and religion rose across the board,” states the report by the commission, which has been keeping such statistics since 1980.
In 1992, the year of the LA Riots, hate crimes started climbing into the 700s. That year there were 736 such crimes, 783 the year after that, 776 in 1994 and 793 in 1995. Then, in 1996, hate crimes spiked to an all-time high of 995, only to be outdone in 2001 — the year of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon — by 1,031 such crimes, many of them targeting people of Middle Eastern descent blamed for the attacks.
The lowest number of hate crimes recorded after that was 502 in 2004, with 632 in 2005 and 594 in 2006.
While the proportion of juveniles among hate crime perpetrators went down from 43 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2007, the number of young adults ages 18 to 25 committing these types of crimes rose sharply in 2007, from 190 in 2006 to 264 last year.
The number of gang-related hate crimes also spiked dramatically, with 16 percent of all hate crimes tied to gangs and gang members considered suspects in 21 percent of all racial hate crimes.
The most common type of hate crimes were those motivated by racial, ethnic or national origin bias, according to the report, which totaled 535 and accounted for 68 percent of the total. Among ethnic/ racial crimes last year, 310, or 58 percent, targeted African Americans, and 125, or 23 percent, victimized Latinos. In anti-black crimes, 71 percent of the suspects were Latino. In crimes targeting Latinos, black suspects made up 56 percent of the total, the report states.
The second largest group of hate crimes — 111 — were motivated by sexual orientation. Of these, 92 percent targeted gay men and eight percent were anti-lesbian. Crimes motivated by gender more than doubled from seven to 15, all but one of them based on gender identity. Most targeted male-to-female transgender women, according to the report, and all the crimes targeting transgender victims were violent.
Anti-religious crimes were the third largest group, up 17 percent from the previous year, and anti-Jewish crimes predominated, accounting for 74 percent of the 105 crimes of that nature. White supremacists were implicated in 17 percent of all hate crimes, committing mainly racial and religious crimes.
The only “good news” in the commission’s report was that “9/11” or “terrorist”-motivated targeting of Middle Easterners fell sharply, and specifically anti-immigrant crimes dropped from 42 to 39 despite the simmering debate over immigrants and the border. A startling new “bad news” wrinkle was a spike in crimes at places of business, which jumped from 61 to 120.
Hutchinson, who writes a column called “The Hutchinson Report,” which occasionally appears in this newspaper, called the figures cited in the report, “a grave warning that racial [tensions] in Los Angeles County present a dangerous, destructive and deadly new threat to racial peace and harmony.”
Although the report quantifies flare-ups between the two groups, tensions between blacks and Latinos have been growing for several years, particularly in traditionally African-American enclaves like South Los Angeles, where burgeoning Latino populations have displaced African Americans in Watts, Lynwood and other neighborhoods.
Randy Ertll, director of El Centro Accion de Social in Pasadena, blames the rise in black and brown tensions on changing demographics. Ertll also cites cuts in funding to youth education programs as being partially responsible for the increases.
“When you have less resources you don’t have that safety net, and then some kids dedicate themselves to things that are illegal and then we can’t reach them,” Ertll said.
Hutchinson called the report “a wake-up call for city and county officials, black and brown community leaders and law enforcement officials to take firm and immediate proactive steps to address the issues that underlie black and brown racial hate crimes.”
Reporter John Seeley contributed to this story.