L.A. County probes increase in hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs

Los Angeles County officials are investigating an apparent surge in hate crimes targeting Muslims late last year.

Eleven hate crimes were reported against Muslims and people mistakenly perceived as Muslim, such as Sikhs, in L.A. County in November and December 2015 — 10 more than were reported during the same months in 2014, according to officials.

Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, said it's possible that the uptick began before November. However, the commission is still compiling data from law enforcement agencies for its annual report on hate crimes.

Most of the hate crimes reported in the last two months of 2015 occurred in December, after the San Bernardino terrorist attack by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, that killed 14 people. The shooters were supporters of the Islamic State terrorist group.

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For the record

3:04 p.m., Feb. 29: An earlier version of this post said 22 people were killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Fourteen people were killed, 22 were injured.

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A statement released by the human relations commission said county officials were "concerned about the dangers ... to the safety and well-being of the tens of thousands of L.A. County residents of the Muslim faith" in the wake of those attacks "amidst anti-Muslim statements by high-profile figures and its amplification by the media."

The reported incidents in late 2015 included a man who was punched and kicked by another man at a restaurant. The assailant asked the victim, "Where are you from?" and the victim said he was from Saudi Arabia, according to the commission.

Other reported incidents included a threat sent to an Islamic school in Hawthorne the day after the San Bernardino shootings, saying that everyone on the premises would be shot; a homeless man who is Muslim and from Iraq who was punched and told to "go back to your country" by another man in a South L.A. park; and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab graffiti sprayed on a middle school and on a man's motorcycle in Chatsworth.

In the wake of San Bernardino and the November terrorist attacks in Paris, there were also several incidents of vandalism against mosques and a Sikh temple in Southern California.

Los Angeles County supervisors, concerned about scapegoating and a potential spike in hate crimes targeting Muslims and those incorrectly perceived to be Muslims, voted in December to do more outreach to affected communities. Last month, the county created a task force aimed at doing so. 

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