A stranger, hurling insults, confronted two young Muslims inside a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Orange County. She grabbed the hijab, a headscarf covering one of the women. "You don't belong in America!" she screamed into the woman's face, then tried to attack the second person.
Terrified, the women sought help from the hotel manager. A police officer called to the scene tried to calm them down, advising them to report the incident to the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which tracks hate crimes.
In this case, law enforcement "actually encouraged her to tell her story" and "we have a record" of the incident, which occurred last year, said Fatima Dadabhoy, senior civil rights attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. But, Dadabhoy added, many victims of such crimes are too scared to come forward.
Dadabhoy spoke Thursday at the release of a report showing hate crimes across O.C. dropped by 20 percent in 2013 -- largely due to a decrease in vandalism -- but the number of incidents involving violence increased.
"One hate crime is too many," said Rusty Kennedy, who heads the commission, as he detailed the experiences of different communities.
Hate crimes targeting people -- as opposed to other types of offenses, such as vandalism of buildings -- rose from 24 in 2012 to 28 in 2013.
African Americans, who make up about only 2% of the county's population, became the targets of 11 reported hate crimes, making them the most frequently attacked group in 2013 - as they have been almost every year since the commission started documenting such crimes in 1991. Among last year's victims was an African American man shopping at a market when he was assaulted and choked while the assailant used a racial slur.
Crimes targeting Muslims and Arabs rose from four in 2012 to six in 2013, according to the study. Crimes targeting Jews -- including a synagogue defaced with swastikas -- fell more than 50% from 11 in 2012 to five last year. Reported crimes against Latinos and Asian Americans totaled three and one, respectively in 2013.
Reported crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation occurred seven times in 2013. Laura Kanter, director of youth services at The Center OC, said it is likely that there were far more crimes that were never documented. She said she worries about how such incidents are "almost normalized, almost sanctioned. The way that slurs toward LGBT people happen, it's part of the air."
Kanter said she wished she could sit perpetrators down with a transgender youth group she works with at The Center OC, which provides resources to the LGBT community. "I would tell them, 'These are the faces of the people you are hurting. These are their stories,'" she added. "We would share our roots... and make an attempt at restorative justice."
Among those attending Thursday's event in Santa Ana to announce the report were O.C. police chiefs and their command staff. Many law enforcement agencies in the county have launched community policing programs to overcome the reluctance that some communities have in reporting crimes to police. Part of that effort involves hiring more officers to reflect the communities they serve.
"We try to improve by hiring diverse people to reflect where we live. It's important to our profession as a whole. I don't know a single police chief who doesn't believe this," said Robert Handy, who heads the Huntington Beach Police Department, with 331 employees, including 212 sworn officers.
Those listening to the stories and statistics at the event suggested bringing back the once-popular living-room dialogs, a program run by the county's Human Relations Commission in which participants of different cultures hosted one another in their homes or other venues.
The Rev. Everett Bell, associate minister at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, also suggested organizing interfaith events, such as having members of an African American Christian congregation worshiping with others at a Jewish synagogue.
Melissa Carr, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, agreed that groups can partner to reduce hate crimes and push better understanding between people of different religions, races and sexual orientation.
"Nobody's born to hate. It is learned," she said. "With effort and vigilance, it can be unlearned....We need to know each other."
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