Seeing a pandemic hate crime spike and racist comments hurled at Orange County Supervisors during public meetings, county officials in recent months have signaled the region’s public anti-hate organization could get a shot in the arm.
The Orange County Human Relations Commission could be in line for a significant expansion of resources and funding — boosting its services and scope — to monitor and combat hatred in the county at possibly a greater scale and in new ways.
New services could include a hate crime reporting mobile app, an enhanced ability for the commission to take reports and follow up with victims in their own languages, a call center and resource hotline, and a database tracking hate crimes in the county, according to an official, proposed list of deliverables.
A new plan and contract for the commission’s expanded work around hate activity could come before the Board of Supervisors for a vote at their meeting on Oct. 19, according to county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
The commission has for years facilitated anti-hate programs at schools, community forums and listening sessions, and annual hate crime reports for the region — efforts which supervisors have historically undermined, often at odds with the group’s evolving social justice positions.
In the mid-2000s, years of supervisors’ funding cuts forced the commission to go city-to-city throughout the county requesting money to fill in for what the county wouldn’t.
OC Human Relations workers and advocates wrote letters — and then follow-up letters — to every city council in the county requesting funding to continue its work, according to a 2004-2005 report from the Orange County Grand Jury.
Fast forward to this year.
“You come to my country, and you act like one of these communist parasites, I ask you to go the f*** back to Vietnam,” said a man who identified himself as Tyler Durden — a fictional character from the movie Fight Club — at a July 27 supervisors’ meeting during public comment.
The speaker directed his “go back” comment at Supervisor Andrew Do, a refugee whose family fled Vietnam, and brought cheers from several audience members in the meeting chambers.
Local elected officials — and the county’s two major political parties — condemned the July 27 speaker’s remarks online, in the days following.
Just this month, the Human Relations Commission released its report for the year 2020, which showed a 35% increase in people reporting hate crimes and a 69% increase in people reporting hate incidents from the previous year, 2019.
In March, when supervisors voted to put out statements decrying a nationwide spike in racism toward and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders scapegoated for the COVID-19 virus.
Community activists and leaders at the time, however, pointed out several long standing barriers to the one organization which could actively fight the issues that supervisors were issuing resolutions for.
For example, the commission still lacks the resources to help some people report hate crimes or incidents in their own languages.
Plus, cities aren’t required to share their data with the commission, thus the group opts not to organize data by city for fear it discourages cities’ participation.
Bartlett, at an supervisors Aug. 24 meeting where the board voted to extend the commission’s current $189,000 contract term, directed the commission to look into ways it could expand its funding.
“Timing is essential,” Bartlett said at the Aug. 24 meeting. “Time is of the essence to get things moving forward.”
On Sept. 21, she told a Voice of OC reporter through text: “I had heard that (the Human Relations Commission) would be submitting a plan to the County in October 19.”
“This has taken way too long just to get to this point and I want to see some forward progress and a plan of action,” Bartlett said over text, adding it’s unclear what exactly the proposed dollar amount of the new contract will be.
“If the commission were to get an increase in funding, some of the things that could be accomplished are expanding in-language services, which would be top priority in both translation and interpretation,” said Alison Lehmann Edwards, CEO of the OC Human Relations Council, the formal commission’s partner group and fundraising arm, in a Sept. 9 interview.
Edwards said “we would not only be able to take reports in additional languages, but have more support services in-language as well, which would include the basics of outreach and support for those who have been targeted and impacted by hate in the county.”
“We could also use more sophisticated software for us to track and analyze the data we gather, and could increase the staffing of the commission,” Edwards added.
Orange County Grand Jurors, in their 2004-2005 report on the state of the commission’s lack of resources, weighed in to stress the importance of the group’s work.
Based on interviews with public service employees throughout the county, the grand jurors determined one of Orange County’s few remaining shots at resolving social conflict in the region rested in the hands of the commission:
“Those human relations problems that existed when the board of supervisors originated the commission still exist.”
More than a decade later, that sentiment hasn’t changed for some locals.
At the Aug. 24 meeting, a public speaker named Cricket Jamet said the commission “enhances our county’s social fabrics … values made concrete on initiatives led by the commission to combat hate.”
Jamet said she’s a parent at Capistrano Unified School District, and works as an advocate and advisor for youth leadership “in a cross-range of multicultural community organizations, including Women for American Values and Ethics (WAVE).”
“In each of these roles I’ve seen firsthand the impact the OC Human Relations Commission has in helping diverse communities discover commonalities to resolve conflict,” Jamet said. “Yet, while Orange County becomes more diverse, hate crimes are still on the rise here.”