By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, was unaware of the Costa Mesa convenience store incident until he was contacted by the Weekly, but agreed there's a connection between racial intolerance in the halls of power and hate crimes in the streets.
"You tend to see over time a high correlation with public debates—particularly when they get real nasty—and a rise in incidents in that community," Kennedy said.
He cited the uproar over the Rodney King beating leading to more hate crimes against African-Americans. When the Japanese were blamed for undermining the American auto industry in the mid-1980s, Kennedy noted, Asians were attacked. After 9/11, Muslims were targeted.
"When the debate on immigrants gets more and more hostile, and the vilifying of immigrants gets more acceptable, you see the fringes of society acting out their own odious beliefs with hate crimes," Kennedy said. "It's not like those engaged in the public debate are themselves perpetrating hate crimes, but the fringes of society feel newly emboldened when the public discourse comes down to certain name calling and hostility."
Of course, the July 7 attack involved non-immigrants: a white man and a black man. Despite their numerically small population, African-Americans are the most frequently targeted victims of hate crimes in Orange County, but Kennedy said his commission's figures show such incidents against blacks have decreased. There were 152 hate crimes and other incidents in OC in 2004 and again in 2005, but while 28 were directed at African-Americans in '04, only 22 were logged in '05.
Indeed, hate crimes decreased against all ethnic groups last year—except one.
"The one community that experienced a significant increase in the number of hate crimes and incidents was the Latino community, where we documented over a 100 percent increase, from six in 2004 to 14 in 2005," Kennedy said. "We believe this is connected with backlash against immigrants based on the hostile and divisive public debate on immigration over the last year."
As the Republican Party hitches its re-election trailer to immigration reform and gay marriage, Kennedy suggests those debating the issues stick to the facts without spouting rhetoric that demonizes individuals.
"We should use 'undocumented resident' instead of 'alien,' which makes someone sound not even human," he said. "And no one should be called illegal because there is no such thing as an illegal person. Only acts can be illegal."