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Capitol Alert

Hate crimes spike again in California; African Americans, Latinos targeted


Law enforcement agencies reported Monday an 11.2 percent spike in total hate crimes across California – the second year in a row the state saw double-digit increases, according to state Justice Department officials.

There were more hate crimes committed last year against people based on their race or ethnicity than any other group, according the annual report on hate crimes released Monday by the California Department of Justice.

Race-related hate crimes shot up 21.3 percent last year, with anti-African American crimes accounting for the largest portion of the increase. There were 251 hate-related “events” and 333 “offenses” against African Americans. Anti-Latino crimes were second, with 83 events reported and 114 separate offenses. Crimes against whites came in third, with 56 events reported and 75 offenses.

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In total, race-related attacks account for nearly 60 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2016. African Americans are consistently the most targeted group, according to the state. Since 2007, 3,262 of the total 10,409 hate crimes were anti-black, the Justice Department found. Hate crimes against people based on their sexual orientation were the second most common, accounting for 1,176 of the total.

It’s unclear why, specifically, hate crime reports have increased in recent years. Justice Department officials did not comment on the uptick. They also declined to discuss potential hate crimes that go unreported. Civil rights groups say President Donald Trump’s candidacy, and inflammatory rhetoric he has used about Muslims and immigrants, could be behind the increase.

But some law enforcement officials say the numbers may be on the rise because more people are reporting incidents.

“We’re out there encouraging people to report crimes they normally wouldn’t be willing to report,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Det. Christopher Keeling, a hate crimes investigator. “The vast majority of what we’re seeing is vandalism, like a swastika here or there, or people making a blanket statement about hating a certain group of people, but we can’t directly link that to the election. If there is nothing saying this is related to the election, how can you attribute it to that?”

Overall last year, 931 hate crime events were reported, up from 837 in 2015. There were 1,190 additional offenses reported, up from 1,057 in 2015. In Sacramento County, crimes decreased slightly, with 44 events or offenses in 2016, down from 54 in 2015.

Hate-related events are defined as an incident in which a hate crime is involved. Offenses include multiple acts, such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, intimidation or vandalism.

Last year was the second year-over-year increase, though total crimes have ticked down over the past decade. Since 2007, total crimes have decreased nearly 35 percent.

But the numbers are on the rise. Hate crimes in 2015 were up 10.4 percent compared to 2014.

Anti-Muslim and anti-Latino crimes accounted for the largest increase in 2015, according to the state. Hate crimes against Muslims went from 18 in 2014 to 40 in 2015. For Latinos, crimes went from 60 in 2014 to 81 in 2015.

In 2016, hate crimes against people based on their religion, gender identity or sexual orientation also increased. Anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attacks accounted for the largest increase in crimes based on a person’s perceived religion. Crimes against gay men represented the largest number based on sexual orientation, with 152 total events and 180 offenses. Crimes against transgender people also increased, with 25 reported events and 24 offenses.

The most common types of offenses considered violent crimes are intimidation, assault and robbery. Vandalism was the most common type of property crime.

Of the total reports, 307 hate crimes were referred for prosecution. Data on convictions were available for 118 cases. Of those considered hate crimes, 51 resulted in convictions.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra condemned the crimes. “When someone commits a crime motivated by hate, it is not just an attack on one innocent person, but an attack on the entire state and our communities,” he said in a statement. “We can see from today’s report that words matter.”

More than half of hate crimes in across the U.S. go unreported, according to a Bureau of Justice statistics report released last week.

The increases could be correlated to an increase in total hate groups tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Of the 917 hate groups currently operating in the U.S., California has the most, with 79, followed by Florida with 63 and Texas with 55, according to the nonprofit. The most dramatic growth in was among radical-right, anti-Muslim hate groups, which increased from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.

A Southern Poverty Law Center report this year attributed the increase to the candidacy of President Donald Trump.

Last year “was an unprecedented year for hate,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and author of a February hate group report analyzing the phenomenon.

“The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism,” Potok said, “along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists. In Steve Bannon, these extremists think they finally have an ally who has the president’s ear.”

Nationwide, hate crimes are increasing, according to the FBI. Becerra called it “unsettling” and encouraged Californians who think they’ve been targeted to report incidents immediately.

“I am committed to working with local law enforcement agencies, schools and local communities to enforce California’s anti-hate crime statutes to the fullest extent of the law,” Becerra said.

Keeling, the Los Angeles County detective, said mass killings like the 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead, and the 2016 Pulse Night Club shooting in Florida that killed 49, have likely contributed to the increase in hate crime reports.

“As things happen throughout the United States and abroad, people think about domestic terror and hate crimes more,” Keeling said. “Sometimes people don’t even know what a hate crime is ... we go out there and educate the community and tell them to report these things even if it’s not prosecutable ... the whole goal is to prevent it from evolving into something bigger.”

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