Hate Crimes Spiking Across Orange County, Up 89 Percent Since 2015, According to New Report

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Orange County continues to grapple with a stark rise in hate, with annual hate crimes up 89 percent since 2015.

That’s the conclusion of the new annual report from the county’s Human Relations Commission, scheduled to be released this evening. 

Commissioners report a 24 percent increase in hate crimes last year, with 83 crimes, up from 67 the year before and 44 in 2015.

The report comes at a time of national focus on rising hate crimes, especially against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s alarming to see a fifth year in a row where there’s an increase,” after multiple years of steady decreases in hate crimes until 2015, said Alison Edwards, chief executive officer of OC Human Relations, the nonprofit group the county contracts with to track hate crimes and incidents.

“We do see this national division is part of [many] people’s everyday lives,” she added. “We’ve become very distant from one another and I think it’s impossible to not have that play out locally, to not see some dehumanizing of one another, particularly these groups that are most targeted this year…We really need to take steps to make sure we’re protecting the people who are most targeted.”

County officials and an expert on extremism plan to discuss the findings, as well as an uptick of hate incidents against Asian-Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, at a webinar this evening as they publish the report.

“In 2019, there were 83 reported hate crimes in Orange County, a 24% increase from 2018. Of the cases motivated by race, ethnicity and national origin, 53% were driven by anti-black racism. Of the cases motivated by religion, 52% were driven by anti-Semitism,” said OC supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel in a statement announcing the report.

“Orange County is working to provide the resources law enforcement needs to prevent these crimes. Now more than ever is it important for Orange County to come together and respect all people regardless of their background,” added Steel, who will be among the officials speaking at the webinar.

Steel’s current support for the commission’s publication of hate crimes comes in contrast with those of her and Supervisor Andrew Do’s appointees to the panel back in 2017, who voted to not release the annual report when it showed another large increase in hate crimes the prior year. 

The OC Human Relations Commission is a county panel tasked with fostering better communication among diverse communities and fighting hate crimes. The commission was created by county supervisors in 1971, and a separate nonprofit group was set up in 1991 to supplement the county dollars with private funds.

The commissioners are appointed by county supervisors, and the nonprofit group, OC Human Relations, is contracted by the county to help carry out the commission’s work, including tracking hate crimes and incidents around the county for the annual reports.

Hate groups have adapted their ways in recent years, including indoctrinating and recruiting young people through video game chat rooms, said Edwards.

“It’s not just these fringe groups that used to wear white hoods and robes. There are different ways that hate groups come into our communities and our families,” she said, adding it’s important to ensure people are aware of these kinds of recruitment tactics.

“Let’s learn to have political discourse that [focuses] on ideas…and stop attacking people for who they are…where they were born,” Edwards added

“The good news is we each can do that,” she said, adding that disagreeing with people in ways “that does not imply violence is really important.”

Among the recent hate incidents noted by the nonprofit are cases of Asian Americans being told they are “Chinese Viruses” or the reason the virus is in the United States.

Activists have criticized President Trump for using the term “China virus” and “kung flu” to describe the virus, warning it feeds into racist incidents against Asians, while supporters of the president say it’s accurate for him to say the virus came from China.

Trump’s use of the term has drawn criticism from some in his own party like Young Kim, a Republican candidate for the competitive 39th Congressional District in North Orange County.

“The President’s continued use of terms associating COVID-19 with the [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community is hurtful to many across our diverse nation,” Kim wrote in a Facebook post the day after the president called the coronavirus “kung flu” at a June rally.

“As I have said in the past, no American of any race or ethnic group, is responsible for this virus. Our leaders should be working to unite Americans to defeat this unprecedented pandemic and the President’s words last night did not do that,” Kim wrote.

Others, including Steel, have supported the president’s use of the term, noting the virus originated from China.

“You know what? It started from China, so that is what he is calling it,” Steel said in late March.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].