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Reported hate crime events are at their highest levels in California in more than a decade, according to a new report from state Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Their 2020 Annual Hate Crime in California Report released Wednesday shows hate crime events increased 31% in the past year, jumping from 1,015 in 2019 to 1,330 in 2020. 

Hate crime offenses — involving murder, rape, robbery, assault, theft, arson, intimidation and vandalism — have increased by 23.9%.

“If you follow the media, we see that there has been an increase of hate activity throughout the country,” said Norma Lopez, director of the OC Human Relations Commission in a Wednesday interview. 

Lopez had not seen the report.

Race motivated hate crimes have increased 67.3% in the past year with anti-Black bias events in California skyrocketing by 87.7% from 243 in 2019 to 456 in 2020.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander Community have also experienced a surge of hate against them in the past year in the state.

A special report from the attorney general shows a 107% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes jumping from 43 in 2019 to 89 in 2020 and 125% increase in violent hate crimes against the community.

“For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate.”

State Attorney General Rob Bonta in a Wednesday news release

Hate crimes against Asian Americans in Orange County have increased tenfold between 2019 and 2020, according to OC Human Relations Commission, who is still compiling data on hate crimes and are expecting to release their own report in September.

“Definitely in the past year, it did get worse,” said Mary Anne Foo, Founder and Executive Director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance.

Foo said her organization saw an increase in depression and mental health needs in the community.

“We saw families afraid to send their kids back to school because they were afraid their kids would get bullied. We saw a big drop in support of Asian-owned businesses, too,” she said.

Electric candles were placed throughout a vigil. Pictured are handmade head wraps with the words,”Stop Asian Hate,” is a call to action due to the upitck in hate crimes against Asians. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Earlier this year rallies, vigils and news conferences calling for an end of the violence and hatred geared toward the community were a regular occurrence in Orange County.

Foo said the county, cities and the OC Human Relations commission are trying to ensure there are ways to report in language.

“The more that local governments and cities and police departments and others talk about it, and one denounce it and then secondly do something about it — I think that’s where people feel safe, but it also educates other people about how serious this is,” she said

Some local cities like Irvine have created multi-language online portals to report hate crimes.

Foo said school districts like Irvine Unified and Anaheim Union have reached out to her organization for resources.

Anti-Asian hate has not only been on the rise in California and Orange County.

Since the start of the pandemic, Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been confronted with a surge of violence and hate crimes across the U.S.

Over 6,600 incidents of violence and hate nationally were reported between March 19, 2020 to March 31, 2021, according to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center — which launched in 2020.

In 16 cities across the country, reported hate crimes against Asian Americans have gone up by 164% when comparing the first three months of 2020 to the first three months of 2021, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

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The state attorney general publishes an annual hate crime report every year. 

Despite this, the California Department of Justice has acknowledged that hate crimes are underreported in the state and the report may not adequately reflect the actual number of hate crimes in the state.

Many people are reluctant to report hate crimes due to a mistrust of law enforcement. 

Some also face language barriers when it comes to reporting hate crimes. 

Others are scared to report for fear being criminalized.

Bonta, the attorney general, put out an informational bulletin for law enforcement and guidance for prosecutors highlighting state laws that address hate crimes and the need to build relationships with communities to increase reporting.

Foo said diversifying the police workforce, as well as city officials encouraging people to report can help change that.

“I feel that, there’s too many incidents since Covid against Asians, and has been directed towards seniors. My mom walks a lot and it can be her,” says Thy Nguyen, 40, of Garden Grove. Nguyen made her mask and plans to sell them to raise money for AAPI organizations. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“When our leaders come out and say this is not right and this is what we want. I think it’s really helpful. I think it builds confidence in community members that it’s okay to report and that we should report,” Foo said.

Those uncomfortable reporting to police can report to the county’s human relations commission.

Foo said even with some of these actions in the county there is still some hesitancy to report. Her organization has started support groups for people impacted by hate and bullying.

“Racism is a public health issue and it creates trauma and it is held within you for years. You can get somatic disorders like headaches and stomach aches if you’re not able to talk about it or feel safe.”

Mary Anne Foo, Founder and Executive Director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance

In California and locally, government agencies are looking to crackdown on hate crimes.

Earlier this year Bonta announced the creation of the Racial Justice Bureau in the state’s department of justice intended to put a greater focus on hate crimes against the state.

In Orange County, the District Attorney’s office created a new unit dedicated to prosecuting people accused of hate crimes.

According to the 2020 Hate Crimes in California report, 30 cases were referred to prosecutors throughout the county as hate crimes last year, but only 8 were filed by district attorneys as hate crimes.

The same report indicates Orange County had 95 hate crime offenses and 82 hate crime events in 2020 reported to law enforcement.

Last year’s report showed there were 91 hate crime offenses and 72 hate crime events reported to local law enforcement in 2019.

Hate crimes have been spiking in Orange County in recent years. 

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Lopez said the county’s human relations commission held a couple of sessions in April with various diverse community groups on how to best combat hate crime at the request of County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and created a proposal looking at how the county addresses hate.

She added the proposal has been submitted to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and hopes they take it up soon.

“The commission is really hoping that there is this collective impact model that is taken on so all these different stakeholders and the community are part of the solution.” Lopez said.

Meanwhile, there are bills going through the State Legislature that declare racism a public health crisis, increase criminal fines for hate crimes, create a toll free hotline and forms for reporting hate crimes — as well as fund community organizations that provide mental health services for people who have been targeted by hate.

Foo said those bills are waiting for the Governor’s signature and there is funding attached to them.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also said in a press release Wednesday that he is proposing a $100 million investment to help survivors of hate crimes and $200 million in community based responses to violence, but did not elaborate further.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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