Homophobic slurs scratched on the hood of a car and a handwritten anti-Asian letter demanding that the person “go back to your country, where you belong”.

These are a couple examples of hate incidents committed in Orange County in 2021 as county officials and community leaders struggle to curb a nearly a decade-long trend of climbing reports of both hate crime and incidents combined.

The two examples were shared at a webinar Thursday hosted by the Orange Human Relations Commission, when the 2021 annual county hate crime report was presented.

Read the 2021 report here.

Norma Lopez, director of the commission, wrote in response to a reporter’s question at the webinar that the continuous rise in hate activity is of great concern.

“We hope that this webinar and information will spark conversations in different spaces in Orange County to really drive strategies that will help us tackle this issue. We hope to open some of these spaces in the future,” Lopez wrote.

This is the seventh straight year in a row where the commission’s report found an increase in combined reported hate crimes and incidents jumping from 375 reported crimes and incidents in 2020 to 398 in 2021.

For the report’s definition of Hate Crimes vs Hate Incidents, click here.

The climbing trend started in 2015 after a downtrend ended in 2014.

[Read: Hate Increases in Orange County For 7th Straight Year, New Report Drops Today]

Data for the report came from groups like Stop AAPI Hate, the Anti-Defamation League OC and Long Beach chapter, the LGBTQ Center OC and local law enforcement agaencies.

“It seems that mostly BIPOC – Black indigenous people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people of religious minorities in Orange County are bearing a tremendous burden of dehumanization, stress and trauma,” said Sara Sheikh-Arizvu, hate crime prevention coordinator for the OC Human Relations Council, at the Thursday webinar.

The 2021 Hate Crime Report at a Glance

Separately, there were 97 reported hate crimes and 301 reported hate incidents in Orange County in 2021, according to the report.

While this is a 13% decrease in hate crimes from the 112 reported in 2020, it is a 14% uptick in hate incidents from the 263 reported in Orange County in 2020.

But even with the decrease in hate crimes overall, there was a 83% increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes and a 43% increase of crimes against the Asian American community in 2021, according to the commission.

Hate crimes and incidents against the Asian American community have been on the rise in OC, California and across the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a while last year, events calling for an end to Asian hate became a routine across Orange County.

The commission’s report reflects a 164% increase in hate incidents against Asian American going from 76 incidents in 2020 to 153 in 2021 – the most of any racial group.

Meanwhile, there were 16 anti-Black hate crimes reported in 2021 – the most of any racial group, despite Black people making up 2% of the county’s residents. In 2020, there were 30 anti-Black hate crimes.

Protestors show up to a expected ‘White Lives Matter’ rally in Orange County on April 11, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Sheikh-Arizu that over half of the hate crimes and incidents reported are taking place at schools, homes and public spaces.

The 2021 figures reflect a 165% increase in hate activity compared to the reported data from 2017. 

Meanwhile, hate incidents have more than tripled in the county since 2017

Since 2017, there’s been a 5,000% increase in hate incidents towards Asian Americans and a 52% increase in hate incidents towards Black people.

The number of hate incidents against Latinos has doubled from 2017 and hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community has increased by 2,100% since 2017 too, according to Sheikh-Arizvu.

There has been 26 times more antisemitic incidents in OC since 2017.

Meanwhile, a state attorney general’s report released earlier this year also shows an 33% uptick in hate crimes across California in 2021 from 2020.

The state report indicates a 61% increase in hate crimes in California over the past five years while the Orange County Human Relations report indicates a 73% increase in hate crimes locally in that same time period.

Read the State Report Here.

Underreporting & How to Report

The county’s report does not show the true extent of the problem, anti-hate advocates say.

“According to the US Justice Department, National Crime Victim survey, hate crimes and incidents potentially occur 24 to 28 times more often than reported,” said Sheikh-Arizu.

She said the reasons for not reporting include victims not wanting to relive their trauma or feel that their experiences are a normal part of life.

Jesus Palapas, senior human relations specialist with the commission said one of the biggest reasons for underreporting is language barriers.

The OC Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in December to approve a $1 million proposal by the Human Relations Commission to expand language accessibility and ways to report hate, expand support services for victims and launch a multilingual campaign to raise awareness.

[Read: Orange County Human Relations Council Looks to Curb Rising Hate Crimes]

The initiative, called Hate Hurts Us All, allows people to report hate crimes through text, email or phone calls and through various languages like Spanish, Vietnamese, Persian, Arabic, Korean, Chinese and Filipino.

Thursday’s webinar included a panel discussion moderated by Jennifer Wang, co-chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, featuring Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent, Deputy District Attorney Billy Ha with the DA’s hate crimes unit and Amy Arambulo, a Community Programs Director at 211OC.

They all emphasized the importance of reporting such crimes and incidents.

“There is a huge value of coming forward and a lot of it starts with the connection in the partnership you have with the community,” Kent said at the Thursday webinar.

Ha said reporting such incidents are important because police departments and the district attorney’s office can’t investigate and prosecute hate crimes they don’t know about.

“It really does take a village for us to combat this in our county, in the state  and in this country,” he said.

Ha said that when prosecuting a hate crime, the DA’s office provides victims with an advocate to help them through the process.

Arambulo said that 211OC is “the front door” for reporting such crimes and incidents and that the organization assists people with filing a report as well as connects them with supportive services agencies like waymakers.

To report a hate incident to 211OC online, click here.

In a Thursday statement, District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he will prosecute “haters” to the fullest extent of the law.

“Hate-motivated behavior and incidents in Orange County have steadily increased – rising 424% over the last 10 years. Hate crimes and hate incidents increased a combined 6% percent over the previous year,” he said.

“This is despicable.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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