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Hate crimes up in OC, anti-Asian incidents spike in 2020, report states; officials emphasize importance in working together to improve


Amidst a global pandemic, hate crimes in Orange County notably increased in 2020, according to a report released last week. 

The Orange County Human Relations Commission published the 2020 OC Hate Crimes Report on Friday (September 17) and hosted a virtual meeting to present and discuss the data. 

While the numbers of hate crimes and incidents reported have been trending up for several years, including a significant spike in anti-Asian discrimination last year, speakers at Friday’s meeting also emphasized the importance of working together to fight hate in Orange County. 

“Real change is possible and as a community in Orange County we can come together to not only advocate for change, but work together to affect change,” said OC Human Relations Hate Crime Prevention Coordinator Nhi Nguyen. “So that we can get closer to a county and a world that is intolerant of violence, hate, and bigotry.”

A few key takeaways from the report include a 35 percent increase in reported hate crimes and a 69 percent increase in the total number of reported hate incidents (compared to 2019). 

Similar to hate crimes, a hate incident is a behavior motivated by hate or bias toward a person’s actual or perceived disability, gender identity, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, but the fundamental difference in definition is that an “incident” is not criminal in nature. Typically, these behaviors are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. 

Other notable statistics in the report: An 1,800 percent increase in hate incidents motivated by anti-Asian hate, and a disproportionate number of anti-Black hate crimes compared to the Black population in OC.

In the intro to the report, Commission Chair Jo-Anne Matsuba wrote noted several specific incidents and crimes across the country, pointing out that it’s been felt locally as well.

“In this past year alone, the Commission has seen an increase in racial violence and injustice amongst communities of color, and in particular towards the Asian and Black community across the nation,” Matsuba wrote. “Unfortunately, Orange County was not the exception to the hate and bigotry we were witnessing. The county has witnessed an increase in hate activities towards, but not limited to, different ethnic groups, political affiliations, religious groups, and the trans-community.”

However, reflecting on the past year, the Commission has also seen “tremendous resilience and eagerness to address these different areas of injustice across our neighborhoods, businesses, and institutions,” she added, mentioning specific campaigns and events that brought people together to address these issues. 

They are committed to seeking out the causes of tension and conflict, discrimination and intolerance, and fight to eliminate those causes

“Let’s come together to continue the fight against all forms of injustice and inequity,” she wrote.

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Protestors at Main Beach last year

Matsuba’s words echoed the general outlook discussed during Friday’s meeting, which reflected on the sobering data, but also highlighted the diversity of the county and the shared responsibility and commitment to bettering Orange County as a whole.

After reviewing the report and seeing that hate crimes have gone up again, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer was disheartened and frustrated, but also dedicated to improving the numbers. 

“I have to be very frank with you, I’m very upset about it,” Spitzer said at the meeting. “It’s been up now for several years in a row and it’s completely unacceptable.”

As DA, when a crime is committed out of hate and he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s his job to prosecute the person to the fullest extent of the law. Spitzer’s office prosecuted more hate crimes during his first two years as district attorney than in the prior 25 years.

“That’s not a good thing,” Spitzer said. “We’ve got to change these numbers.”

Although, people are more aware now about how to report a crime, what a hate crime is, and law enforcement agencies are better trained and educated about hate crimes.

People aren’t born to hate, it’s a learned behavior, he said, based on environment, upbringing, and other surrounding influences. 

“Which means we can change it,” Spitzer added. 

The message from the report shouldn’t just be that hate crimes are up, Spitzer said, it should also be that the county (staff and commission members) is highlighting it in order to work toward fixing it.

“So that we can all come together and do something to fight hate,” Spitzer said, pointing out an ADLU “no place for hate” button he was wearing. “We all believe that. We’re not allowing hate to be in Orange County. We don’t want it in California, we don’t want it anywhere in our nation. Quite frankly, we don’t want it in our world.”

Since 1995, the commission has collected hate crime and incident data from law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, community organizations, and hate crime and incident victims. The data is then analyzed and compiled into an annual report.

Nguyen said that the data in the report is collected voluntarily submission, meaning there may be gaps through incidents that go unreported. It’s a snapshot of hate activity covering all diverse communities across Orange County. 

“It should be looked at as a whole to ensure that we lower the prevalence of hate as a collective,” Nguyen said. 

There were 112 reported hate crimes in Orange County in 2020, a 35 percent 

increase from 2019. In the last five years, hate crimes have steadily been on the rise with the largest jump occurring between 2016 to 2020.

Looking at the 10-year trend, the number of hate crimes and hate incidents were steady to low between 2010 and 2014.

“But in 2015, we started seeing an increase in reported hate activities,” Nguyen said. 

In 2020 alone, there was an alarming rise in hate incidents. There was a 69 percent increase in the total number of hate incidents reported in 2020. Of the 263 reported cases, there was a 114 percent increase in antisemitic hate incidents, an 1,800 percent increase motivated by anti-Asian hate, and a 23 percent increase motivated by anti-Black hate. 

The most commonly reported hate-based criminal offense in 2020 was anti-Black (27 percent) followed by antisemitic (11 percent), and anti-Hispanic (8 percent). These three offenses comprised 46 percent of all reported hate crimes. 

Hate crimes were primarily motivated by the person’s race, ethnicity, or national origin (68 percent of the total); religious intolerance (21 percent); and anti-lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) (11 percent).

Of the 112 hate crime committed in 2020, nearly half the offenses were vandalism. This includes vandalism at religious sanctions, schools, and neighborhoods, Nguyen noted. 

After vandalism (40.18 percent), 17.86 percent of the reported hate crimes were simple assault and 15.18 percent were assault and battery.

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Protestors at Main Beach last year

Most of the hate crimes happen in public areas (e.g., parks). The next most common location is on private property or residential areas, followed by places of worship. 

In 2020, the most reported hate-based criminal offense was anti-Black discrimination, making up for 27 percent of all hate crimes reported. 

“While the Black community makes up only 2 percent of the OC population, this community in particular has continued to be a target of hate and violence,” Nguyen said. 

Compared to 2019, in Orange County last year there was an 88 percent increase in reported hate crimes and a 23 percents increase in hate incidents motivated by anti-Black hate.

“We saw this continued violence in the community outside of our county as well,” Nguyen said. “I think as a community, it really goes without saying that there’s a lot of work to be done in our county and across the country.”

Anti-black discrimination is historically rooted in laws, housing regulations, and education systems, Nguyen pointed out.

It’s distressing to see that, year over year, the Black community in Orange County is disproportionately among the victims of hate incidents and hate crimes, said University of California, Irvine, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Douglas Haynes during a panel discussion at the meeting.

Another disturbing statistic was the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents. 

In the past 10 years, there were an average of four or five anti-Asian hate related reports in the county.

“But in 2020, we received 76 reported hate incidents, an 1,800 percent increase from the past year,” Nguyen said. 

There were seven reported hate crimes and 76 reported hate incidents related to anti-Asian discrimination in 2020. This is a 40 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and an 1,800 percent increase in anti-Asian hate incidents.

Some xenophobic incidents were related to COVID-19 rhetoric, she pointed out. Community members were told to “go back home” and were blamed for bringing COVID, Nguyen said. 

While reported anti-Asian hate was much lower in Orange County in past years, discrimination and hate experienced within the Asian community is not new, Nguyen said, noting several specific incidents in the past. 

“We recognize the historical implications as well,” she said, “as we carry over and think about prevention efforts today.”

It’s been a challenging year, said Center for Asian Americans in Action Executive Director Priscilla Huang during a panel discussion at the meeting. 

“The data that was presented was really sobering, obviously,” Huang said. “Not just for Asian Americans, but across all the different communities that were covered.”

The abrupt escalation of anti-Asian violence, while not new, certainly had a big impact on the many communities here in Orange County, she noted. 

A number of the reported incidents happened at businesses or in public spaces, she pointed out, but many also happened near people’s homes. Either on the sidewalk directly in front of their house or at a nearby space. She’s heard a number of stories from locals of that happening here in Orange County.

“You can imagine the fear and the anxiety of just leaving their homes, right? We usually think of our home as a sacred place,” Huang said. “When even just peeking out a window can trigger a lot of concern and anxiety … it becomes really traumatizing.”

The recent anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents have also triggered a lot of old memories, she added. Many people in her own generation are children of immigrants, Huang said.

“We watched our parents experience a lot of these same hostilities and hostile comments and environments, and never had a space to really process that and what happened to them, and to us as children,” Huang said. “I think being so close to seeing all of these incidents happen again just brings back all those memories, those unresolved memories of conflict and tension.”

In response to all of this there has been a huge surge in requests for mental health help, she noted. 

The second most reported hate crime in OC in 2020 was antisemitic discrimination. There was a 113.64 percent increase in hate incidents last year, including swastikas painted on buildings, private properties, and places of religious worship.

A total of 94 hate incidents and 12 hate crimes related to antisemitism discrimination. This is an increase of 50 hate incidents in the past year.

The data shows two different narratives about Orange County, Haynes pointed out.

“[The] 21st century narrative (is) that we are a very diverse county, over half are people of color,” which is quite different than 60 or even 30 years ago, Haynes said. “That’s evidence for real progress and pride.”

“And yet, at the same time, what’s striking is that we have a 20th century problem, the data show, in terms of antisemitism, anti-Asian, anti-Black discrimination of various forms,” he added.

This may feel familiar, but in some ways it’s very new, Haynes said, like how organizations are responding. So they try to engage with it and name the incident or the crime, he continued, and not to see it as exceptional. They try to be better at promoting understanding, he added, allowing people to better understand the different communities.

“In some sense,” Haynes said, “America doesn’t have a race problem, it has a problem with racism.”


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