Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill late Friday, Oct. 8, that establishes the first statewide commission in California to monitor and track hate crimes and incidents.
AB 1126, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, will enable a state Commission on the State of Hate, which many supporters say could be a model for the nation, to formally recommend policy to the governor and Legislature and hold public hearings to give voice to those individuals and communities who are targets of hate and violence.
The bill had been awaiting the governor’s signature since mid-September and caused anxiety among many supporters earlier Friday because it would have died had the governor not signed it before Sunday, Oct. 10.
On Wednesday, Oct. 6, Newsom visited the Museum of Tolerance to launch his Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education, which will be tasked with identifying instructional resources to teach California’s students about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, and provide young people with the tools necessary to recognize and respond to on-campus instances of anti-Semitism and bigotry.
The Commission on the State of Hate will cover a lot of ground addressing issues of hate and extremism, and will be designed to help smaller communities that might not have the resources or expertise to tell their stories, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, who has testified in favor of AB 1126 before legislators several times.
“This commission would be complementary to other agencies that fighting hate and work alongside them,” Levin said Friday before the governor signed the bill. “It will bring multiple stakeholders together and leverage data, expertise and community input in this battle against hate.”
Levin said California saw a 31% increase in hate crimes last year and the nation has seen the worst year for hate crimes since 2001. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hate crimes and hate incidents against Asian Americans have also skyrocketed in California and nationwide.
The situation is only going to get more dire with further divisions and polarization, Levin said.
“We’ve seen an explosion of investigations relating to domestic terrorism,” he said. “We’re also seeing localized extremism where local issues have become a lightning rod for division, conflict and violence. These are just some of the reasons we need this commission, which could provide local groups with the tools and expertise they need to do their work.”
Southern California organizations that have thrown their support behind the commission include the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles that operates the Museum of Tolerance, the Islamic Networks Group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The bill also has received bipartisan support in the state Assembly and Senate.
Hate crimes are “a much bigger problem than our elected leaders care to acknowledge or recognize,” said Maha Elgenaidi, founder of Islamic Networks Group, which provides training on hate crimes for law enforcement officials statewide.
The 2020 FBI Hate Crimes Statistics showed that 7,759 hate crimes occurred in the U.S. last year, a 6% increase from the previous year.
“But that still doesn’t give us the whole picture and is a small fraction of the daily lived experiences of people of color,” Elgenaidi said, adding that the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey puts the average number of hate crimes each year at 250,000. That number, Elgenaidi said, is based on interviews with members of about 100,000 households.
The problem, she said, is most people are not reporting hate crimes to police because they are afraid or think they might get in trouble if they spoke up.
“Or, they are not able to identify a hate crime to be able to report it, don’t know how to report hate crimes, or don’t understand the significance of why they should report hate crimes at all,” she added. “It’s also humiliating to experience a hate crime or hate incident based on one’s ethnic or religious identity so a victim remains silent when they really should be reporting it to prevent it from happening against more of their community members.”
This is why the commission is critical, Elgenaidi said.
“It’ll bring the issue to light and educate the masses and public officials about the issues surrounding hate crimes,” she said.
The commission fills a void because there is no central statewide body to hear from communities that have been affected by hate crimes, said Melissa Kaufler, spokeswoman for Assemblyman Bloom, who she said chairs the Assembly Committee on the State of Hate and realized through the public comment period that “a lot of people have a lot to say, but don’t have a platform.”
For example, if a house of worship is attacked, the commission could immediately set up a hearing at the location where the attack occurred, talk to the concerned people and call subject matter experts to provide data and context, Kaufler said. It is this marriage of data and storytelling that makes the commission a unique endeavor, she said.
“Organizations have their own mission and agenda,” she said. “The commission is more for the people.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the governor’s action late Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Source: Orange County Register