The numbers of reported hate crimes committed in Orange County dropped in 2010 for the fourth consecutive year, according to the annual Hate Crime Report issued by Orange County Human Relations Commission.
But while the downward trend is encouraging, there is still concern among community leaders that most hate crimes go unreported.
And the trends vary depending on the targeted group, with African-Americans still suffering disproportionally. Hate crimes against African-Americans rose slightly and accounted for a third of all reported hate crimes, according to the report. The 2010 U.S. census found African-Americans are less than 2 percent of Orange County's total population.
At a news conference Thursday, community leaders addressed what they believe to be significant underreporting of hate crimes at the county's schools.
"One hate crime in all of our schools in Orange County? That cannot be," said Ken Inouye, vice chairman of the Human Relations Commission.
Ginger Hahn of The Center Orange County, a nonprofit organization that serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, blamed underreporting of hate crimes at schools on a systemic problem with school administrations.
When children or others in the community approach school or other officials and complain of bullying based on the their identity, "those powers just counsel them to accept it," Hahn said.
Community leaders gave examples of hate incidents at schools: a young Jewish girl was shown a picture of Adolf Hitler and told it would be "the last thing you will see"; a Muslim girl was taunted for wearing a headscarf until she violently lashed out; a boy was bullied for years until one day he was called a "fag" and pushed down a flight of stairs.
The blame for the violent confrontations isn't always clear to school officials, Hahn said. In the case of the boy being pushed down a flight of stairs, Hahn said, the school principal told him "it's your word against theirs."
"Again, there needs to be a change at the top," Hahn said.
Other findings in the report:
- Hate crimes targeting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders continue on a downward trend. Six such crimes were reported in 2009, and five were reported last year.
- Hate crimes against Muslims decreased slightly, but noncriminal hate incidents more than tripled. Most incidents were against Muslim college students and and were reactions to the disruption of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech at UC Irvine.
- Hate crimes against Jews decreased dramatically from 14 in 2009 to three in 2010. The latter total could be underreported because a key organization lost its data.
- Of the 29 hate crimes referred to the district attorney, 26 defendants were white, one was black, one was Hispanic and one was listed as "other."
— ADAM ELMAHREK