Friday, August 24, 2001
Hate Crimes Rise 8.6 Percent in Los Angeles County, Commission Says
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The number of hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose by 8.6 percent last year compared to 1999 despite a slight statewide decline, a county commission reported yesterday.
According to a report released by the Commission on Human Relations, 933 hate crimes were reported in the county in 2000, which is up from the 859 reported the previous year.
“One hate crime in Los Angeles County is one too many,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said. “The solution to the problem is not to minimize or to exaggerate, but to gather accurate information, aggressively enforce hate crimes laws and work with the various communities and schools to teach tolerance.”
The 15-member commission used arrest reports from 45 county law enforcement agencies along with reports from all but nine of the county’s school districts, who did not submit statistics, to compile the report.
Last year’s hate crime total was second only to the 995 reported in 1996.
“This number represents a number of stories and shows up that prejudice and bigotry are alive and well in our communities,” commission Executive Director Robin Toma said.
Toma called the 22.7 percent increase in racially motivated crimes reported since 1999 “the most disturbing finding of the report.”
Last year’s statistics showed an increase of 104 racially motivated crimes, with blacks continuing to be targeted the most frequently, representing nearly half of the victims in those cases. Racially motivated crimes represented 60.2 percent of all county hate crimes reported in 2000, including four murders and two attempted murders.
The mother of Raul Aguirre, a Glendale teenager who was allegedly beaten to death by two Armenian gang members, spoke through an interpreter and urged the county to prevent other attacks from happening.
“For us, it has been very terrible,” Leticia Aguirre said. “It has destroyed our life. It is like being hit in the head by a hammer.”
According to the report, of the victims of racial hate crimes, 49.6 percent were black, 23.5 percent were Latino, 16.6 percent were white, and 5.3 percent were Asian Pacific American.
“This increase shows that no racial group escapes the trauma of hate crimes,” Toma said.
Of the 933 crimes reported in 2000, 562 were racially based, 218 involved sexual orientation, 148 were motivated by religion, three related to gender and two involved disability, according to the panel.
The report also showed that vandalism, the most common type of hate crime, rose 42 percent over 1999.
Toma said hate crime suspects are overwhelmingly male and in cases where age and gender were identified, 89 percent of the suspects were under 25.
In response to the high rates of juvenile hate crime, Toma said the commission will be launching a multi-year youth public education campaign which will involve youth in culturally diverse school projects. The commission is also developing a website linked to the campaign which will provide users with information about hate crimes.
“Investing in education is the best measure to prevent hate crime violence,” Toma said.
The report also found religious hate crimes rose 8.1 percent in 2000 with the majority of the offenses committed were anti-Jewish.
Sexual orientation hate crimes saw a 17 percent decline in the number of cases reported last year, but Toma warned that the numbers were deceiving, saying last year’s fall was preceded by a 17 percent increase in 1999.
Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Mike Soderberg said since the creation of the department’s Hate Crimes Unit in April it has reviewed 130 cases, designated 65 hate crimes, and referred 20 of the cases to the District Attorney for prosecution.
“We are not happy we have this problem in Los Angeles,” Soderberg said. “But admitting there is a problem is the first step to solving it.”
Hate Crimes Unit Commander Lt. Joe Impellizeri said the increase in reported hate crimes makes the department even more committed to educating people about hate crimes and working towards a solution.
“I think the best solution is education,” Impellizeri said. “What we need to do first is educate our field officers and move on from there.”
Members of the commission were joined by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Coalition for Human Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in releasing the report.
A statewide hate crimes report released by the Attorney General’s Office August 12 reported a slight decline of reported hate crimes throughout the state, falling to 1957 from 1962 crimes in 1999.
In releasing the report, Attorney General Bill Lockyer applauded the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for its “excellent” hate crime prosecution record, but said the city of Los Angeles and Orange County had the lowest rates of hate crime prosecution in California.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company