Report: OC Hate Crimes Against Muslim and Jewish Communities Rise in 2017

OC Human Relations’ Don Han presents the report. Courtesy Michael Sean Wright

Park benches defaced with swastikas, a black man beaten while being called a “nigger,” and a Muslim woman having her hijab torn off by a man who physically assaulted her with a metal canteen are just a few of the documented incidents from last year displaying a rising hate in Orange County. In tracking it all, the Orange County Human Relations Commission released its 28th annual hate crimes report on Tuesday detailing disturbing trends. Muslims, Jews and people thought to be Middle Eastern found themselves at the unfortunate end of the hate spike. 

Culling information from law enforcement agencies, school districts, colleges, community-based groups and victims themselves, the report counted 56 documented hate crimes and 94 hate incidents in 2017. The overall numbers show a year-by-year increase in the county since 2015 when there was only 44 such crimes and 43 such incidents. Hey, wasn’t that the same year Donald Trump announced his presidential bid by lambasting Mexican immigrants and later calling for a Muslim ban on the campaign trail? Coincidence? 

“The underlying intent of a hate crime is to intimidate and subordinate both the victim and the entire community to which they belong,” says Rabbi Rick Steinberg, char of the OC Human Relations Commission, in the report. “The underlying message is that because they’re different–they don’t belong.” 

Vandalism accounted for the majority of hate-related criminal offenses with the swastika being the emblem of choice in more than half of all such incidents. Much of that graffiti targeted the Jewish community, the report found. Assaults, criminal threats and aggravated assaults rounded up other major offenses.

There are over 80 faiths practiced in OC, but Muslims became the most targeted group last year. When coupled with incidents against people thought to be Middle Eastern, they comprise 16 percent of those victimized by hate. “This is more than double the number of the past few years and appears to be part of a national trend that also shows an increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims and people appearing to be Middle Eastern,” the report states. 

OC’s hate spike correlates with the increase in hate groups documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center across the nation. In releasing the report yesterday, Chapman sociology professor Peter Simi presented on such groups active in the county. Simi recently appeared in Frontline’s Documenting Hate: Charlottesville documentary that spent considerable time focused on members of the Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist fight club active in OC. 

If there’s any good news, it’s that hate crimes against other targeted groups–blacks, Latinos, Asians and the LGBT community–dropped from 2016’s stats. And yes, the report also charted anti-white incidents–or shall we say “incident,” given that only one was documented. 

But that’s about it for silver linings. OC schools became the most likely place for hate incidents to occur, a finding described as disturbing. In mirroring the commission’s report, the Orange County District Attorney’s office has also seen an increase of hate crimes reported to police between 2015-2017. Last year, the agency prosecuted eight cases with such charges filed. 

With Samuel Woodward, a reported member of the fascist Atomwaffen Division, charged with a hate crime in the murder of gay, Jewish college student Blaze Bernstein in Lake Forest earlier this year, the OC Human Relations Commission may have a much more grim report on its hands for 2018. 

Hate crimes, in general, are often under reported for a variety of reasons. Those victimized by a hate crime or incident are encouraged to call (714) 480-6570.

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