Hate crimes in L.A. County jumped in 2015, report says

A black man and his roommates looked outside their Northridge house in January 2015 to see that a 5-by-6-foot cross had been burned on their lawn.

That April, four motorists of Armenian descent reported having their cars vandalized in North Hollywood. Two of their vehicles, which displayed the Armenian flag, had been spray-painted with the year 1915 — the year of the Armenian genocide.

Two months later, a lesbian said she was walking to a store in Whittier when two men pulled up in a car. One screamed a gay slur, shouted, “I should kill you!” and pointed a gun at her before driving away. The next day, a swastika was painted at the entrance of a Hollywood school with the words “Kill Jewish Boys.”

The incidents are among 483 hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County last year, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. After generally trending downward for seven years, hate crimes rose sharply last year and were up 24% from 2014. 

The uptick came as the number of hate crimes statewide also increased by 10% in 2015, according to the report, and as the Los Angeles Police Department reported a 20% increase in violent crimes in the city.

"Everyone should be concerned about the increase in hate crimes in our county, especially after it had been trending downward for several years," Robin Toma, executive director of the county's Commission on Human Relations, said in an email. "The fact that the rise in hate crimes was across all the major categories — not just race, ethnicity, national origin, but also sexual orientation, religion and gender/transgender — means all of us are affected in some way by this."

The report, as it has in years past, came with a major caveat: The vast majority of hate crimes — those in which a victim’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability are substantial factors — are never reported or classified as hate crimes, authorities say.

In L.A. County, 84% of the 120 hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation last year were violent — marking the highest level of violence since 2003, according to the Commission on Human Relations. The total number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation was up 11% from 2014.

Hate crimes targeting gay men in particular made up the vast majority of those incidents and rose for the second year in a row from 92 to 104, the report states. Sexual orientation was the second-largest motivator for all L.A. County hate crimes, behind race.

"Even in a progressive state like California with some of the strongest legal protections for LGBT people, and in a diverse county like Los Angeles, LGBT people … continue to be attacked, and frequently violently — simply because of our sexual orientation and gender identity,” Roger Coggan, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s director of legal services, said in an email.

Coggan said the number of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is believed to be much higher than reported and that there are often barriers to reporting them. Experts say it is difficult to determine the number of hate crimes against LGBT people because many of the victims do not want to out themselves by reporting them.

Half of all hate crimes reported in L.A. County last year were racially motivated. Though they made up less than 9% of the county's population, African Americans were “grossly over-represented” as victims of hate crimes, the commission report said.

Of the 241 racial hate crimes, 58% were directed against African Americans. A large number of those offenses were committed by Latino gang members, according to the report.

Latinos were targeted in a fourth of the racially based hate crimes, with anti-Latino crimes growing 69%, from 36 to 61, last year. Because Latinos comprise about half of L.A. County residents, “this is still a surprisingly low number despite the sharp increase in 2015,” the report states. Previously, anti-Latino crimes had been trending downward since 2008.

Some long-held patterns persisted: Blacks and Latinos targeted each other with disturbing consistency.

"The great majority of African Americans and Latino/[Latin]as in Los Angeles County co-exist peacefully and are not involved in ongoing racial conflict,” the report says. “However, for many years this report has documented that most hate crimes targeting African Americans are committed by Latino/as and vice versa.”

The pattern is particularly true in neighborhoods "that have undergone rapid demographic shifts" from being majority black to majority Latino, according to the report. 

Hate crimes motivated by religion also rose last year, to 99 in 2015 from 72 the previous year,

The number of hate crimes in which the perpetrators blamed the victims for terrorism or ongoing conflicts in the Middle East jumped from 10 in 2014 to 19 last year. Of those, 14 were anti-Muslim, one was anti-Middle Easterner, two were both anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Easterner and two targeted Jewish people.

In one incident, a man received threatening calls from an anonymous man on three separate occasions. The suspect said, “You are a Muslim, one of those ISIS, and I am going to burn your shop!” The victim was a Christian.

In another, a Muslim woman was sitting in her car when a white man walked up to her and yelled, “I have 300 friends that were killed by Muslims. You're a … terrorist.” The man then threatened to kill her if he ever saw her again.

Anti-Muslim crimes increased after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Four such crimes were reported after the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, and nine followed the Dec. 2 mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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