Orange County witnessed an astronomical rise last year in anti-Asian discrimination, with big jumps in both hate incidents and hate crimes, largely fueled by misplaced anger over the coronavirus pandemic.
The finding is part of the 2020 Orange County Hate Crimes Report released Friday, Sept. 17. This year’s report, titled Tolerating Racism is Racism, found 76 of the 263 hate incidents reported in the county last year targeted people of Asian descent. In previous years, the county had about 5 anti-Asian hate incidents annually.
And continuing a disturbing trend that began in 2015, the number of hate crimes overall last year rose again in Orange County, jumping 35%, the biggest single-year increase in the past decade. Nearly half of the 112 hate crimes in 2020 were anti-Black, anti-Semitic or anti-Hispanic. The report also found seven anti-Asian hate crimes.
State law defines hate crimes as criminal acts motivated by gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. A hate incident — such as public distribution of non-threatening racist fliers — is biased behavior targeted at someone because of the same actual or perceived characteristics that does not rise to the level of a crime. Hate incidents often are protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
Community representatives discussed the findings — and some local responses to violent bigotry — during a Zoom webinar hosted Friday by the OC Human Relations Commission with the report’s release. The Commission compiles hate-related data annually based on reports made by law enforcement, schools, and the community at large.
The virtual talk included Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and others who are pressing for a stronger response to hate.
“I’m very upset about it,” said Spitzer, who earlier this year created a special Hate Crimes unit — including three prosecutors and two investigators — to prosecute hate crimes.
“Hate crime is up; it’s been up now several years in a row,” Spitzer said. “And it’s completely unacceptable.”
Last year, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office reviewed 30 possible hate crimes submitted by local police agencies. The agency prosecuted 18 of those cases, with eight of the filings involving specific hate crime charges, the report said.
Overall, hate incidents in Orange County last year rose nearly 70% from the previous year. That included 94 anti-Semitic hate incidents, the most documented in the annual report. The report also referenced 38 hate incidents targeting Black people and 15 targeting Hispanic people.
Black people, who make up slightly more than 2% of Orange County’s population, were the victims of more than one-quarter of the hate crimes (30) reported last year, making them the most likely to be targeted for such incidents.
Spitzer observed how Black people have been “systematically targeted in Orange County, just like people from the Middle East.” And, he added, members of the LGBTQ community “are always targeted, and always singled out.”
The 2020 report calls the rise in hate incidents “alarming.” In addition to the skyrocketing anti-Asian sentiments, anti-Semitic incidents rose 114% and anti-Black incidents 23%. The most hate incidents were reported last year in the months of March (46) and April (32), when COVID-19 stay-home orders went into full effect.
The report describes such verbal attacks as:
• A stranger yelling “f—ing Chinese. Coronavirus” at an Asian family near a gas station
• A Black woman called the n-word by a neighbor
• Expletives and the n-word hurled at people protesting the police murder of George Floyd
• An anti-immigrant video posted on Twitter
• A transvestite woman being told “people like you shouldn’t live”
But even as hate incidents and hate crimes were on the rise, the county also witnessed broad push back against bigotry, from grassroots responses to formal anti-hate efforts by prosecutors and some police.
In her introduction to the report, Jo-Anne Matsuba, chair of OC Human Relations Commission, characterized the push back as “tremendous resilience and eagerness to address these different areas of injustice.”
Orange County is home to the third largest population of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the country. From grassroots organizations to elected officials, Asian Americans and the larger community in Orange County rallied to denounce the COVID-19 anti-Asian hate.
One example: The city councils in Garden Grove and Irvine, and the Orange County Board of Supervisors, all passed resolutions condemning anti-Asian behavior on the same day, responding to a letter urging such action from the Center for Asian Americans in Action. In all, 15 O.C. cities eventually would adopt such resolutions or proclamations.
During the Zoom meeting Friday, Priscilla Huang, executive director of the Center for Asian Americans in Action, described the harassment and physical intimidation faced by a Chinese family in Ladera Ranch. A group of teens in the area pounded on the family’s front door, threw rocks at their windows and left obscene materials. The family installed a fence and cameras, but the harassment continued. At night, the two young children couldn’t sleep; the parents took turns patrolling the yard, Huang said.
Finally, a neighbor rallied others who helped keep watch. The community reaction grew, Huang said, and by late February it blossomed into a huge gathering to mark the Lunar New Year.
That family’s experience — if not the community’s response — reminded Huang of discrimination she faced growing up.
“I wish someone had done that for us when we were kids and my parents were just starting in this country,” Huang said of the support eventually offered to the family in Ladera Ranch.
Last summer, 128 people, including some from around the country, participated in a Zoom “virtual vigil” held by the Black congregation New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange to talk about the death of George Floyd. Weeks earlier, on May 25, 2020, Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest — a murder that sparked protests around the world, including in Orange County.
On the law enforcement side, Spitzer announced in May the formation of the Hate Crimes Unit dedicated to investigating and prosecuting incidents connected to bigotry. That came two months after the Irvine Police Department created a new online portal for citizens to report hate crimes and hate incidents.
The OC Human Relations Commission launched its own anti-hate initiative called “To Know Better” that promoted understanding and cultural acceptance among high school and middle school students. The commission also has sponsored “OC Together” community dialogues on race relations. (The next OC Together event is planned for October.)
Douglas Haynes, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion at UC Irvine, called for a much broader plan and strategy, saying in the Zoom talk that this point in Orange County’s history represents “a novel moment in time.”
“It’s baffling that we’re so diverse and yet still contending with increases in hate incidents and hate crimes,” Haynes said. “I’m convinced we have the capacity as a community to really improve.”
To speak up
Hate crimes and hate incidents can be reported to OC Human Relations through a confidential hotline, at 714-480-6570, or by emailing email@example.com. To view the 2020 Hate Crimes Report, go to ochumanrelations.org/hatecrime/report.
Source: Orange County Register