Two years after county officials deemed COVID-19 a public health emergency, a pandemic-amplified hate spike brought them face to face with another one entirely. 

A resolution approved unanimously by county supervisors last month declares racism “a public health crisis” and calls for the county to be a “justice-oriented governmental organization” through “robust trainings and continuing education” 

It also calls for a review of county policies and procedures “to ensure that racial and health equity are core elements of Orange County’s work.”

But as exemplified by the early months of the pandemic, such health declarations beg immediate action – and the question of whether county officials have taken any since their December resolution. 

A month later, county officials can’t seem to point to any public actions yet. 

One co-author of that December resolution, Democratic Supervisor Doug Chaffee, said while the declaration’s goals are an ongoing process, they “have not taken any particular action since” they made it.

“We try to be sensitive to the population as a whole. When we initiate something like that we unfortunately get a lot of nasty responses from people,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview. “We’re doing the best we can to break it in and try to get everybody on board.”

Internally, however, the county’s Health Care officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said in an emailed statement Thursday that the county health care agency is “evaluating policies, procedures, and practices to support equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

She said the agency will work with the Board of Supervisors and the OC Community Resources department “to identify and devise a countywide strategy and plan of action to implement activities in support of the declaration.” 

Republican Supervisor Andrew Do, the other author of the declaration, did not respond to a request for comment last week.

[Read: OC’s Top Elected Officials Declare Systemic Racism and Inequity a Public Health Crisis]

Their declaration came as the number of reported hate crimes and incidents combined in OC has increased annually for the past seven years, according to law enforcement data gathered for the OC Human Relations Commission’s 2021 hate crimes report.

[Read: Orange County Struggles to Curb Increasing Hate Incidents]

State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office recorded a total of 94 hate “events” in Orange County for the entire year of 2021, according to the office’s most recent annual hate crimes report for California. 

Read the State Attorney General’s report here.

In mid-2021, his office also established a Racial Justice Bureau, which promised six new attorneys and a supervising deputy attorney general to help with hate crimes, set up a reparations committee for Black people, and help with things like college campus “climate” issues. 

OC Takes a Stand

As the hate trends continue, Chaffee said the declaration was an important action to take because the county – rather than individual cities – provides health care.

“We find that people who are abused or called names – that does affect their health,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is improve health for everybody and it ties into the equity initiatives we’re trying to do where everybody has a chance to get the care they need.”

Read the Declaration here.

Advocates on the ground didn’t need a written declaration to realize that.

They’ve already taken action. 

A historic $165 million fund secured by California’s API legislative caucus in Sacramento has opened the door for groups like community health clinics – which offer multi-language health services which would otherwise require translation – to expand their resources. 

A host of Orange County-based organizations applied, as did organizations up and down California. The state allocated a total of $14 million of that fund in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. 

“That investment was huge,” said Mary Anne Foo, the founder and executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), who points to that legislative fund as a major stride in statewide efforts to combat hate. 

Foo’s group served as the “regional lead” for the nearly $1.3 million allocation of that fund to community groups in Orange County. 

According to the state’s previous funding announcement, the money is to be used for direct services like referrals and case management; prevention services like arts-based and other cultural work; and intervention services like outreach, hate incident training, and services for survivors.

While organizations like Southland Integrated Services and the OC Human Relations Council received some of that allocation directly, Foo said OCAPICA distributed some of its allocation to other local groups that weren’t direct recipients – and not just for AAPI communities. 

There were 16 anti-Black hate crimes reported in 2021 – the most of any racial group – even though Black people make up about 2% of Orange County’s population, according to the 2021 county hate crimes report.

And since 2017, hate incidents against Black people in the county have increased by 52%.

Some of last year’s statewide Stop the Hate fund also went to the Orange County Community Foundation/African American Alliance Fund, according to an email by Julie Vo, a policy director at OCAPICA. 

The next allocation of funding is now anticipated to be $50 million, with groups able to apply for up to $800,000 by Feb. 13. 

Foo said her group is “encouraging all communities that have been impacted by hate” to apply, and that, like before, “we’re giving some of our money out to groups” that don’t end up on the state’s list.

Hate incidents against Jewish people have also been increasing in OC.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released an audit last April that found there were 62 antisemitic incidents in the Orange County and Long Beach area in 2021 – nearly double that of 2020 when the ADL tracked 34 incidents in the region.

2021 also saw heated debates about proposed COVID-19 vaccine passports, with many people comparing the idea to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust – a move that drew condemnation from Jewish leaders across the county. 

[Read: Jewish Hate Spiked Across Orange County and Long Beach in 2021, Audit Finds]

There was also an 83% increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes in 2021, according to the report.

For Uyen Hoang, executive director of the queer Vietnamese advocacy group called Vietnamese Rainbow of OC (VROC), the issue made her question whether she’d even live past the age of 25. 

“Growing up, I thought that in order to survive, I needed to leave Orange County,” said Hoang in an October community roundtable hosted by the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance.

“There was always this feeling of anticipating violence everywhere I went, and growing up, I just had this belief – along with a lot of my peers – that I wouldn’t make it past 25, it was something in my gut I can’t explain.”

That was until she started classes at UCLA, where she said she “learned to organize as a student organizer” and came back to Orange County to create her own space, one she could call home.

The way Hoang sees it, most efforts against hate have been “band aid solutions,” and being LGBTQ+, Hoang focuses on the ways discrimination intersects: “A lot of times solutions are either for API, POC groups and then LGBTQ+ is on the side.” 

Asian Americans, not only in OC but across the country, have faced a surge in hate crimes and incidents since the start of the pandemic.

Reported hate incidents against the community, according to the county report, went up by 164% from 2020 to 2021.

In a Tuesday phone interview, Orange County Human Relations CEO Alison Lehmann Edwards said the declaration made by supervisors was important and that if the community doesn’t take the issue seriously, they won’t be able to combat it.

“This declaration really helps us to say, ‘Hey, we see these systemic inequities, we also see these acts of hate and when we’re recognizing and acknowledging that both are happening, our efforts to move upstream – and prevent hate and inequities – are strengthened,” she said.

Edwards also said the increase in numbers is not only a result of more hateful occurrences in the county, but because more people are coming forward to report such activity.

“We do think it’s a combination, actually, more people are using the different avenues for reporting. We also know that there’s still a lot of hateful rhetoric that we’re hearing at the national level, and definitely ends up impacting locally,” Edwards said.

Through a $1 million funding from the Board of Supervisors in Dec. 2021, the commission launched the Hate Hurts Us All initiative last year.

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

The initiative allows people to report hate crimes and incidents through a variety of different avenues, including email, phone call and texts. The services are also available in ​​Arabic, Chinese, English, Filipino, Korean, Persian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

[Click here to report a hate crime.]

Here are some other strides advocates point to in efforts to combat hate over the last few years:

  • The state’s $165 million API Equity Budget.
  • Senate Bill 1161, passed in 2022,  which develops a community survey tool to understand how harassment affects public transit riders. California State Senator Dave Min authored the legislation.
  • Irvine City Councilmember Tammy Kim worked with the city and the Irvine Police Department to establish a portal to report hate crimes and hate incidents in multiple languages. 
  • Dr. Jeff Kim established an Asian American Studies curriculum available within the Anaheim Union High School District to ensure that students can learn about Asian American history and contributions.

Hate Activity in Orange County 

Bonta’s office recorded 94 hate “events” in Orange County in 2021, according to the office’s most recent annual hate crimes report for California. 

The office defines an “event” as an occurrence where a hate crime is involved, where there may be one or more suspects involved, one or more victims targeted, and one or more offenses involved for each event. 

Bonta’s office recorded a total of 105 individual “offenses” that meet hate crime criteria, which includes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, simple assault, fondling, intimidation, destruction/ vandalism, false pretenses, and weapons violations.

Of these offenses, Bonta’s office reported 104 total victims and 76 total suspects. Most of the hate “events” and “offenses” happened in Santa Ana, where there’s a large concentration of working-class, immigrant Latinos. Coming in second was the City of Irvine.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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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