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Hate crimes rose again in Orange County in 2017, with Muslims and Jews a common target, study says

Hate crimes rose again in Orange County in 2017, with Muslims and Jews a common target, study says
A cross that was set ablaze in the front yard of an Anaheim Hills home in 2015. (Greg Harris)

For the third year in a row, the number of hate crimes rose in Orange County, mirroring a national increase in reported hate groups, according to a study released Tuesday.

The 2017 hate crime report from the Orange County Human Relations Commission documented 56 hate crimes and 94 hate incidents.

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Fifty hate crimes and 72 hate incidents were reported in 2016; in 2015, 44 hate crimes and 43 hate incidents were reported.

The incidents were most frequently motivated by the target’s race, ethnicity or national origin, Don Han, a human relations specialist, said at a news conference at the commission’s Santa Ana headquarters.

Last year, 13% of the county’s reported hate crimes targeted Muslims, the most frequent victims. But if the percentages of Muslim and Middle Eastern targets are combined, they equal 16%, or nine victims — more than double the number of the last few years, according to the report.

Members of the Jewish community were the second-most frequently targeted group, totaling 9% of the reports, with the swastika symbol ranking as a common act of vandalism.

Overall, other criminal offenses included simple assaults and aggravated assaults, along with crimes in which victims were attacked or threatened with physical harm.

Hate crimes occurred most often in public areas such as streets and parks, followed by residences. Schools, meanwhile, were the most common locations for hate incidents, officials said.

“A hate incident may not rise to the level of crime, but it still has major impact on the victim and is quite hard to handle, especially when you hear slurs,” Han said.

The total of African American victims fell from seven to four in 2017, while the number of LGBTQ victims dropped from 11 in 2015 to five in 2016, then to two in 2017.

Hate crimes targeting Latinos dropped from four in 2016 to three in 2017, while those targeting Asians dropped from four in 2016 to three in 2017.

A dramatic rise in hate incidents to 94 — among them, one in which a high school coach who reportedly bullied a student with anti-Latino comments — occurred in 2017, compared with 72 in 2016, according to the report. Other reported victims include a Muslim community group receiving threatening phone calls with xenophobic and Islamaphobic language, and an African American man being called the N-word while on a bike path at the beach.

The latest numbers follow a national rise in reported hate groups, with 917 active in 2017, compared with 829 in 2015, according to the study.

But as many as 54% of hate crimes are not reported, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s because victims fear retaliation or pursue other channels to avoid facing law enforcement.

“If the number of hate crimes are up, you can bet that the number of unreported crimes are also up,” said Jeff Blair, deputy chief of the Tustin Police Department. “That’s why we always work hard to push accurate reporting.”

Brette Steele, regional director of the the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said it’s crucial that “when you see it, when you hear about it, you must speak out against acts of hate and be an ally to raise awareness.”

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She suggested organizing anti-hate workshops in community centers, mosques, churches and temples, along with restarting the successful living room dialogues that the commission launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“A huge part of our outreach is just educating people on knowing their rights,” said Marwa Rifahie, a civil rights attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “People need to understand what being a victim and a witness involves, and how to document what you experience.”

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