By Aara Ramesh
On Wednesday, June 30, California’s Department of Justice (DOJ) released a recently compiled report on hate crime events and offenses throughout the state in 2020, alongside a series of recommendations, resources, and guidelines directed at the public and at law enforcement to spur a comprehensive, all-society response to the historic rise in hate crimes seen last year.
The report looks at statistics on hate crime events, offenses, victims, and perpetrators, but does not address hate incidents. An actual criminal act driven by hate must be involved for the terms hate crime event or offense (such as murder, rape, robbery, etc.) to be applicable. A hate incident, on the other hand, involves actions or behaviors, like insults and disseminating bigoted propaganda in public places, that are based in hate but are protected by the First Amendment.
Motivations for hate crimes and incidents can include “the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation,” as well as “a person’s association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics,” among numerous other characteristics.
According to the analysis, reports of overall bias-related events increased 31% in 2020, up to 1,330 from 2019’s 1,015. The last time it was this high was in 2008, when 1,397 events were reported. This is the highest reported level noted in over a decade. Anti-Black bias events increased 87% in 2020 (to 456 from 2019’s 243), and prejudice against Black people was the most common bias motivation. Events rooted in anti-white prejudice also increased in 2020, up to 82 from the previous year’s 39.
The California DOJ also singled out a meteoric rise in the incidence of anti-Asian hate crime reports, which the statement called “particularly pronounced,” as it jumped a staggering 107% in 2020 (up to 89 from 43 the previous year). The greatest number of reports came in during March and April 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The report attributes this due to a concerted association by officials of the American Asian community and the Covid-19 virus, which exacerbated historic negative stereotypes related to Asian peoples.
On the other hand, hate crime events brought about by religious affiliations decreased by 13.5% overall, with antisemitic event reports decreasing 18.4% (to 115, from 141). Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation fell 12% as well, to 205 last year, compared to 233 in 2019.
California Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement condemning the rise in prejudice-driven crimes, adding, “My administration is taking aggressive, targeted action to support targeted Californians and prevent hate crimes, proposing an investment of $100 million to support survivors and another $200 million in community-based responses to violence.”
The state’s Attorney General, Rob Bonta, also introduced a number of tools and guidelines to help the public and law enforcement better understand how to identify, respond to, and prevent hate-related crimes and incidents.
The report takes pains to point out that hate crimes are historically underreported, possibly due to fears victims may have in terms of engaging with law enforcement. As such, the California Attorney General urges officials to “[build] relationships with the local community,” which, it is hoped, will increase the prevention, reporting, and prosecuting of hate crimes.
For various state law enforcement agencies, the Attorney General circulated a bulletin reiterating and highlighting the specific laws and penalties associated with hate crimes under California law, with the hope of helping them better identify, address, and investigate such offenses.
The Department also sent a separate bulletin to prosecutors, advising them on how to best prosecute bias-related cases and directing their attention to various resources at their disposal, to ensure a “fair and uniform application” of the relevant laws, increase the number of successful prosecutions, and identify possible “alternative forms of sentencing or restorative justice approaches.”
For the public, the resources included a dashboard on the most recent hate crime data, an updated general dashboard, and a new dashboard organized by bias motivation type. It also made available brochures in 25 different languages for victims and the public-at-large to help them identify and report hate crimes, as well as secure direct assistance where appropriate.
If you believe you or a person you know has been the target of a hate crime, you should take the following measures:
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911;
- If needed, seek medical attention;
- Write down the exact words that were used and take note of any other relevant facts so that you don’t forget them;
- If it is safe to do so, save all evidence and take photos;
- Get contact information for other victims and witnesses; and
- Reach out to community organizations in your area that deal with hate crimes or incidents.
Next week, we will explore the hate crimes report in greater detail, with a focus on the substantial increase of anti-Asian bias.