Reported hate activity continues to skyrocket in Orange County year after year, with the brunt of that being directed at the county’s Black, Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities.
It’s all documented in a new annual hate report from the county’s Human Relations Commission — now called Groundswell, which also found much of the hate is happening in schools.
According to the latest report, Orange County saw a 67% increase in reported hate crimes last year– including one murder and at least 38 assaults, 57 incidents of vandalism, and 23 threats of violence.
To read their newest report, click here.
Allison Edwards, CEO of Groundswell, said in a Thursday phone interview that data is reflective of the political rhetoric that is being spouted at the national level and OC is not immune to it.
“There are hundreds of anti-trans and anti-gay piece of legislation being proposed across the country,” she said. “There are places across the country that are choosing not to teach or at least proposing not to teach portions of Black history in America.”
“I think these types of actions, whether intended or not, send a message that these communities are not valued.”
For the eighth straight year in a row, the commission’s report found an increase in combined reported hate crimes and incidents jumping from 398 in 2021 to 450 in 2022.
The report found that while the total number of hate incidents actually dropped last year, the number of hate crimes jumped up, from 97 crimes in 2021 to 162 last year.
Under rules laid out by the California Department of Justice, a hate incident is when someone does something legal that is motivated by hate, like passing out anti-Semitic flyers, while a hate crime requires the breaking of a law, such as vandalism or assault.
The commission noted that reported hate incidents in schools jumped 178% in 2022.
In 2021, there were 41 hate incidents at schools.
That jumped to 103 in 2022.
According to the Human Relations Commission, just over half the reported hate crimes were motivated by race, while nearly a third were connected to religion, and 15% were motivated by sexual orientation, which commission staff noted was a 126% jump in anti-LGBTQ+ hate.
Despite the spike in reported hate crimes, the report noted that county District Attorney Todd Spitzer only filed hate crime charges in less than half of the 37 hate cases referred to his office, which has a Hate Crimes Unit staffed by three prosecutors and two investigators.
“Nineteen of the cases were rejected for hate crimes and either non-hate crime charges were filed or the case was rejected entirely due to insufficient evidence to prove a crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt,” staff wrote in the report. “The 16 cases that were filed as hate crimes involved crimes motivated by bias against race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.”
According to the 2022 report, there were over 450 hate incidents and crimes pointed out, a 95% increase from just five years ago according to the report.
The Jewish community was the most targeted religion in the county, and accounted for 20% of the total number of hate crimes and incidents.
The Black community, despite making up only 2% of the county’s population, was the most targeted for race related hate activity, accounting for 52% of those types of hate crimes and 43% of hate incidents.
“This is not new for Orange County either. This kind of data is reflected back over the decades. I think honestly Orange County has some soul searching to do about this,” Edwards said.
“We have a long history of this and Orange County has crimes against the Black community that go back decades that have sent the message that we haven’t not always been a welcoming County.”
Schools are also increasingly becoming the most common place for hate incidents, with the report noting just over one third of all the reported hate incidents in the county happened at a school.
“We have gotten calls from schools and school districts saying we’re seeing an increase in the use of racial slurs and derogatory language,” Edwards said.
While the report didn’t include details on which schools were an issue, they noted that middle and high schools represented 82 of the 103 reported incidents.
She points to vitriol and division at school board meetings influencing the behavior.
“These things don’t happen in a vacuum,” Edwards said.
Earlier this month, Orange Unified School District’s board of trustees adopted a new policy to notify parents if their child comes out as transgender.
Critics of the policy say it’ll become an outing of transgender students and potentially endanger them, while proponents argue it’s in the parents’ best interest — and their rights — to know how their children identify.
City and county leaders have also gotten into repeated debates over the role of the government in promoting LGBTQ+ pride, with county supervisors and the city of Huntington Beach deciding not to fly the rainbow pride flag this year.
The Huntington Beach City Council majority also just censured Councilwoman Natalie Moser for questioning if fellow Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark was a holocaust denier or had any associations with hate groups.
That same night, Surf City officials eliminated any mentions of hate crimes in the city’s Human Dignity Policy – an official statement made after a hate crime happened in the 1990s.
Edwards said the county has expanded reporting services with a 24/7 call center and options for residents to report hate activity via text or email which she says may attribute to the increase as well.
Still, Edwards said most people in OC don’t want to see hate crimes climbing and they want their friends and family to feel safe.
She says it’s a message they need to send to their elected leaders and the entire community.
“We need to start sending the message that this is not the county that we want to be,” Edwards said.
“That’s what it’s going to take to turn the tide on this.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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