The year 2018 had the highest combined number of hate crimes and hate incidents in Orange County than in any year on record. That’s according to the latest OC Human Relations Commission (HRC) Hate Crimes Report, released to the public on Sept. 26, and the Weekly’s own dive into all past Hate Crime Reports dating to 1991, when the Commission first began reporting hate crimes and incidents in the county.
The new Hate Crimes Report states that there were 67 reported hate crimes in 2018, and another 165 hate incidents. The report defines a hate crime as a “criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group of persons with one or more of the preceding actual or perceived characteristics,” while a hate incident is a “behavior that is motivated by hate or bias” towards a person with the above named actual or perceived characteristics. An example of a hate crime–which is discussed in the report–is the 2018 murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein by a neo-Nazi in Foothill Ranch, while a hate incident mentioned in the report would be the following: “A Muslim woman wearing her hijab was given the middle finger and called a ‘baby killer and trash.’”
The increase in hate crimes and incidents saddened Rabbi Richard Steinberg, who chairs the OC Human Relations Commission.
“The sad reality is that, in recent years, hate crimes and incidents have increased in our county, targeting individuals or groups because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other aspect of their being,” Steinberg says in the 2018 report. “Temple walls continue to be defaced with racial slurs. People are being assaulted because they speak a different language or for the way they look. The worse possible outcome became a reality this past year when a young man was murdered because of who he was.”
These numbers should be considered conservative figures, as many hate crimes and hate incidents go unreported each year. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department National Crime Victim Survey states that hate crimes and incidents can occur “24-28 times more often than reported,” according to the 2018 OC Hate Crimes Report.
That being said, both hate crimes and hate incidents rose in 2018, according to the report (in early years, the Hate Crimes Reports lumped all hate crimes and incidents together and reported just a total figure; only in the last decade or so did the reports start separately reporting hate crimes and incidents). Hate crimes rose 12 percent over 2017, according to the 2018 report. The most common hate crimes in 2018 were vandalism (21 percent), simple assaults (13 percent), criminal threats (3 percent) and aggravated assaults (3 percent). While hate crimes targeting African Americans were slightly down in 2018 from 2017, crimes against Asian Americans were the same, slightly up for Latinos and way up for LGBTQ residents.
Jewish people were the most frequent victims of hate crimes in Orange County, according to the new report. “This is more than the number of the past few years and appears to be part of a national trend that also shows an increase of hate crimes targeting people of the Jewish faith,” states the report. Latinos and Muslims were also frequent targets–mostly through vandalism.
As far as hate incidents were concerned, they rose dramatically over the 2017 figures. “In 2018, 165 hate incidents were reported, which is an alarming 37% increase from last year,” states the 2018 report. “In the last four years, hate incidents have spiked with the largest jump occurring from 2017 to 2018.” The report doesn’t break down how the rise in hate incidents broke down among various groups.
This dramatic, “alarming” rise in hate crimes and incidents began about five years ago, as this chart of total hate crimes and incidents in Orange County we created shows. In fact, from 2009 through 2014, as the chart shows, hate crimes and incidents were dropping dramatically in Orange County–to the lowest level ever recorded in the county in 2014. A look at hate Crimes Reports during those years shows just how the numbers were dropping–which was good for some groups, and not so good for others.
- 2009: “While overall hate crime is down, aggressive acts against Muslims, Jews and Latinos have increased over the last year.”
- 2010: While hate crime was “dramatically down” to “to nearly half of what was reported in 2006,” hate crimes against African Americans were up, and hate incidents against Muslims and those from the Middle East were “substantially up.”
- 2011: While hate crimes, especially against African Americans, were up, hate incidents “fell sharply.”
- 2012: Overall hate crimes fall slightly (though they rise against people perceived to be gay or lesbian rises) while hate incidents rise slightly.
- 2013: Hate crimes continue to fall slightly slightly, while hate incidents continue to rise slightly.
- 2014: Overall numbers have fallen to their lowest year since 1991. “This year, we are pleased to share that the reported number of Hate Crimes in Orange County continued its downward trend in 2014,” Ken Inouye, who chaired the HRC then, says in the 2014 report. “We are encouraged by this trend, but cannot forget the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’”
The very next year (which is also the year Donald Trump, who has consistently made racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant attacks the foundation of his ideology and administration, first announced his candidacy for President), everything changed. In the 2015 report, Human Relations Commission Chair Beck Esparza noted a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as an increase in hate crimes and hate incidents throughout the county. The next year, 2016, saw 50 hate crimes (up from 44) and 72 hate incidents (up from 43). The 2017 report noted that “Orange County’s increase in reported hate crime numbers parallel a national increase in reported hate groups,” then referenced stats from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) stating that there were 917 hate groups active in 2017, an increase from 829 in 2015.
Which brings us to 2018. I asked Alison Edwards, the CEO of OC Human Relations, the nonprofit organization that produces the HRC reports under contract to the County of Orange, how she accounted for the fact that hate crimes and incidents were dropping overall throughout Orange County until 2015, when they started rising sharply. Her answer is measured and doesn’t mention Trump, but it does reference the rise in hate that’s taken place in the U.S. and around the world in recent years.
“I think the rise in hate crime and hate incidents in the last few years is partly a reflection of the divisions in our nation,” she said. “We have increasingly dehumanized and degraded people who don’t look like us or share our values and viewpoints. When we stop seeing our fellow Americans as human it makes the leap to violence more likely. We have seen a growing number of examples of the deadly combination of hate and violence internationally and nationally, Christchurch and El Paso most notably, which have also highlighted the ease of access to hateful ideas online that may also promote and glorify violence.”
These trends have dire implications for Orange County, Edwards added.
“I hope we can all agree that behavior of this kind is not acceptable at any place, at any time,” she said. “Our county cannot thrive if we harbor and tolerate racism and bigotry. The ability of our region to support families, provide good jobs and schools and safe neighborhoods will not withstand the exodus of people who are made to feel unwelcome. More importantly, our collective conscious calls on us to make sure that all people are safe and respected while in our home. I hope anyone who reads the Commission’s report will believe that we can do better and fight to be more than the hate these crimes and incidents bring to our home.”
Click here to read the 2018 OC Hate Crimes Report.
Click here to read OC Hate Crimes Report dating back to 2003.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.