Decade Ended in Blaze of Hate : Crimes: The number of threats and assaults against blacks, Jews and gays last year were tops in the ‘80s, the county’s human relations commission says.
In January of last year, a black family in Tujunga discovered a noose hanging from a tree on their front lawn. A racial epithet was chalked on the tree trunk.
In February, a young “skinhead” in La Crescenta threatened his Jewish teacher with a gun.
In June, two “gay bashers” attacked a man in Hollywood, beating him with bricks and rocks until his leg and ribs were broken.
Those were just three of 378 hate crimes--those motivated by race, religion or sexual orientation--that were reported in Los Angeles County in 1989, making it the worst year for such activity in the past decade, according to two studies released Thursday.
The reports, released by the county’s Commission on Human Relations, say hate crimes rose throughout the county last year, with racially motivated crimes outnumbering those prompted by religion for the first time since the commission began collecting statistics a decade ago.
In 1989, the commission said, 167 race-related crimes were reported, representing a 75% increase over 1988. Meanwhile, crimes against religious groups went up 12.6% in the same period, from 111 to 125. The panel also documented 86 hate crimes based on sexual orientation, a 41% increase from 1988.
Eugene Mornell, the commission’s executive director, described the findings as “extremely disturbing.” However, he noted, the studies did reveal one bright spot: authorities made 90 arrests for hate crimes in 1989, three times the previous record for annual arrests.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who held a press conference Thursday to announce the findings, added: “There is both bad news and good news in these reports, although unfortunately the bad news outweighs the good.”
The commission, created in 1944, is one of the oldest agencies of its kind in the United States. It is charged with promoting racial and religious harmony as well as monitoring violence between ethnic groups.
Although the commission believes hate crimes are still vastly under-reported, Mornell said the rising statistics may be attributed in part to increased reporting by victims. But mostly, he said, population shifts have caused ethnic tensions to rise, particularly as whites have become a minority in many areas of the county.
Moreover, Mornell said, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.
“The population is changing,” he said, “and people will continue to feel fearful and threatened.”
Although hate crimes against Latinos, Middle Easterners and Asians are increasing, blacks and Jews are by far the most frequent targets, the commission reported.
“The commission believes that anti-Jewish and anti-black bigotry are perhaps the most firmly entrenched forms of prejudice in our society,” the panel wrote in a review of the past 10 years called “A Decade of Bigotry.”
Indeed, during the 1980s, 62% of all racially motivated crimes were directed at blacks, while 92% of all religious crimes were directed at Jews. By comparison, Muslims were the second-most frequent target of crimes against any religious group, accounting for just 3% of all such incidents in the past decade.
David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith, said the county’s findings generally parallel those of his organization. Lehrer cited skinhead youth gangs--who are often associated with white supremacist causes--"trash TV talk shows” and a “decline in public civility,” as reasons for the rise in crimes against Jews.
The commission reported that young white men are most often responsible for hate crimes, and that graffiti--insulting remarks scrawled on homes, businesses and houses of worship--is the most common form of such crime.
But violent acts certainly played a role in the statistics, especially in crimes against lesbians and homosexuals.
During 1988 and 1989, the only years that the commission has gathered statistics on crimes motivated by sexual orientation, assaults accounted for nearly two-thirds of such crimes.
The commission reported that some victims suffered long-term disability from the attacks. “The term gay-bashing,” it wrote, “is unfortunately accurate.”
Thomas J. Coleman Jr., coordinator of an anti-violence hot line run by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, agreed. He said verbal abuse against gays is decreasing but violence is on the rise.
“People are being shot at, being beaten, being robbed and during the robbery, during the beating, people will make references to sexual orientation and that really does concern us,” he said. “It represents not only a problem as far as individuals but it’s also an attack against us as a community.”
HATE CRIME RECORD
Hate crimes-those motivated by race, religion or sexual orientation-reached record highs in 1989, according to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.
In two reports released Thursday, the commission documented 378 hate crimes last year, up from 267 the year before.
HATE CRIMES BY RACE/ETHNICITY OF VICTIM Black: 96 Latino: 22 Asian: 19 Armenian: 10 Arab: 7 Other White: 6 Multiple Races: 5 Iranian: 2 GROWTH IN HATE CRIMES ’81: Racial Hate Crimes: 4 ’81: Religious Hate Crimes: 61 ’82: Racial Hate Crimes: 15 ’82: Religious Hate Crimes: 101 ’83: Racial Hate Crimes: 11 ’83: Religious Hate Crimes: 81 ’84: Racial Hate Crimes: 13 ’84: Religious Hate Crimes: 70 ’85: Racial Hate Crimes: 13 ’85: Religious Hate Crimes: 71 ’86: Racial Hate Crimes: 58 ’86: Religious Hate Crimes: 95 ’87: Racial Hate Crimes: 79 ’87: Religious Hate Crimes: 115 ’88: Racial Hate Crimes: 95 ’88: Religious Hate Crimes: 111 ’88: Sexual Orientation Crimes (Data available for two years only): 61 ’89: Racial Hate Crimes: 167 ’89: Religious Hate Crimes: 125 ’89: Sexual Orientation Crimes (Data available for two years only): 86