California hate crimes jump to highest level since after Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

·4 min read
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Hate crimes reported last year in California were the sixth-highest ever recorded and were at the highest the state has seen since the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks more than 20 years ago.

The state Department of Justice on Tuesday released findings from the 2021 Hate Crime in California Report. It documented 1,763 reported hate crimes last year; a 32.6% jump from 1,330 hate crimes in 2020. Department of Justice officials said hate crimes targeting Black people remained the most prevalent, climbing 12.5% from 456 in 2020 to 513 last year.

“Today’s report undeniably shows that the epidemic of hate we saw spurred on during the pandemic remains a clear and present threat,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a news release. “In fact, reported hate crime has reached a level we haven’t seen in California since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11.”

“One hard truth in our state, just as we see across the nation, is that the epidemic of hate we saw spurred on during the pandemic remains a clear and present threat,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said at a news conference Tuesday. “Each of these incidents represents an attack on a person, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow Californian.”

The number of overall hate crimes reported in 2020 in California was a 31% increase from the previous year. Reports of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased 107% in 2020.

Reported anti-Asian hate crimes continued to increase last year with a 177.5% jump from 89 in 2020 to 247 in 2021. Bonta last year released a report on anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. Hate crimes motivated by a sexual orientation bias shot up 47.8% from 205 in 2020 to 303 last year.

Hate crimes against Hispanic or Latino people increased 29.6%, from 152 in 2020 to 197. Anti-Jewish bias hate crimes were the most prevalent among incidents involving a religious bias; climbing 32.2% last year from 115 in 2020 to 152.

The state Department of Justice has collected and reported statewide data on hate crimes since 1995. Hate crime data has historically been underreported, and justice officials say they recognize that data may not adequately reflect the actual number of hate crimes that occurred in the state.

Bonta on Tuesday announced the creation of a new job, a statewide hate crime coordinator within Department of Justice’s Criminal Law Division to assist state and local law enforcement efforts to combat hate crime.

“As our state’s top law enforcement officer, I will continue to use the full authority of my office to fight back,” Bonta said in a news release. “We will keep working with our local law enforcement partners and community organizations to make sure every Californian feels seen, heard, and protected.”

Hate crime cases filed for prosecution

In 2021, Bonta’s office released a series of reports, guidance, and resources to help the public and law enforcement, including a law enforcement bulletin on civil and criminal hate crime laws, legal guidance for prosecutors, information in over two dozen languages to help Californians identify and respond to hate crimes.

The number of cases involving hate crimes filed for prosecution by district attorneys and elected city attorneys increased by 30.1% last year, according to the Department of Justice.

Still, not all criminal attacks carry a hate crime charge since prosecutors need to prove the suspect was motivated by bias. In San Francisco, for example, the 2021 death of an 84-year-old Thai grandfather is headed to trial although the district attorney’s office has not filed hate crime charges in that case.

In May 2021, Bonta launched a new racial justice bureau with six new l.awyers and a supervising deputy attorney general to help community groups fighting hate and work with law enforcement to identify best practices for investigating hate crimes.

Bonta also has met with local leaders for roundtable discussions on hate crimes, including a Sacramento event in October a week after someone left a plastic bag with rice and a leaflet with a printed swastika and the phrase “Aryan Nation” at several homes and an elementary school in Carmichael. A man was identified as suspect and arrested in the Carmichael incidents, which later included a synagogue. He was convicted and sentenced to 180 days in the Sacramento County Jail.

“While there is no single solution, it’s up to all of us to heed the call, because when our communities feel empowered, they come forward,” Bonta said in Tuesday’s news release. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that we stand united — there is no place for hate in California.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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