Hate crimes are on the rise in L.A. County, experts tell state leaders in Santa Monica
By Gary Walker
A national expert on domestic terrorism groups, Anti-Defamation League investigative researcher Joanna Mendelson has been tracking extremist groups for nearly two decades. As of late, she’s been especially busy at work.
“Things have never been so bad,” Mendelson declared last Thursday during the inaugural meeting of the California Assembly Select Committee on the State of Hate on the campus of Santa Monica College.
Organized by committee chair Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D- Santa Monica), the meeting focused on how various institutions and public agencies are using data to inform law enforcement and public policy in response to an upward trend in hate crimes in Los Angeles County and other parts of the state.
Panelists included Mendelson, Bloom, state Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D- Culver City), LAPD Cmdr. David Kowalski, Brianne Gilbert of Loyola Marymount University’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission annual Hate Crime Report author Marshall Wong.
Wong’s latest report identifies 508 hate crimes reported countywide in 2017 (the most recent data available) compared to 482 in 2016, a 5.4% increase. Race, ethnicity or national origin motivated at least 50% of L.A. County hate crimes in 2017 — up 9% from the previous year, while crimes targeting sexual orientation dropped 8%.
The most frequent targets of L.A. County hate crimes in 2016 were members of the LGBT community, but in 2017 that changed to black people. There were 129 hate crimes against black people in 2017, accounting for 25% of all hate crimes and representing a year-over-year increase of 15%. Hate crimes specifically targeting people of Mexican heritage increased from 33 to 52, a spike of 58%.
Of the 508 L.A. County hate crimes reported in 2017, 49 of them occurred in the county’s Metro West Service Planning Area, which follows along the coastline south from Malibu to Westchester and Playa del Rey, as far inland as Beverly Hills and Culver City. Perhaps more significantly, the lower overall population density of the area gave it the second-highest per capita hate crime rate among service planning areas. (More specific location data was not immediately available.)
Hate crimes are different than hate incidents — typically verbal rants or other communications that are hate motivated but not considered to be violating any laws. Discussion focused on hate crimes, though Mendelson stated that California presently has the highest activity of hate propaganda in the nation.
“Unfortunately, what’s old is often new again,” said Kamlager-Dove, who described the hate crime statistics as
“very enlightening, yet very disturbing.”
Mendelson said high-profile hate incidents sometimes benefit white supremacist organizations as recruitment tools.
“In many ways, the Charlottesville, Va., event [in 2017] was a watershed moment for many of these hate groups,” she said.
Bloom expanded the conversation to note attacks on black churches in Louisiana and multiple fatal shooting at synagogues this year.
“We’re bearing witness to more frequent attacks all over the world,” he lamented.
Kowalski and Mendelson said the internet has become one of the best and most effective tools for racist organizations to organize — “and we’re seeing evidence that they’re using gaming sites now to recruit new members,” Mendelson added.
Kowalski’s unit, the LAPD Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, was involved in the joint operation with the FBI to thwart an alleged domestic terrorism plot by Mark Steven Domingo to detonate a bomb in Long Beach out of anti-Muslim hate. Court documents revealed that Domingo considered blowing up the Santa Monica Pier as an alternative.
Stopping the bombing “was one of the proudest days that I’ve had as a police officer,” Kowalski said.
According to a recent public opinion survey on race relations and hate crimes in Los Angeles County, 73% of respondents in 2018 — down slightly from a high 77% in 2017 — said different racial and ethnic groups are getting along very well or somewhat well.
“From our data I was surprised to see the numbers as high as they were,” commented Gilbert. “We know that perceptions of hate and actual acts of violence reported and classified by the police as hate crimes are two different things.”
Bloom said the committee will hold similar meetings across the state this year.
“In a diverse democracy,” said Kamlager-Dove, “I think we have an obligation to act.”