Gulf Tensions Seen as Factor in Record Level of Hate Crimes : County: Incidents against Arab-Americans and Muslims increased during 1990, report says.


For the sixth consecutive year, hate crimes reached record levels in Los Angeles County in 1990, including a sharp rise in attacks against Arab-Americans and Muslims, according to a report released Friday by the county Commission on Human Relations.

Officials said the crimes against people of Middle Eastern descent appeared to be spurred by hostilities in the Persian Gulf. Of the 38 such attacks reported last year, 27 were committed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The year before, there were eight anti-Arab incidents.

That jump mirrored a sharp rise in anti-Arab sentiment across the country, where 58 such hate crimes were reported during January. That compares to only one case nationwide in January, 1990.


In Los Angeles County, most of the crimes against Arab-Americans involved vandalism, graffiti or the dissemination of anti-Iraqi hate literature. Muslims were targeted primarily through phone threats to mosques.

“It’s a four-letter word: fear,” said Don Bustany, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “When the government tells the populace to watch out for ‘Arab terrorists’ . . . even decent people from the mainstream take that as a license to discriminate.”

Despite the rise in anti-Arab attacks, the bulk of the hate crimes reported last year was directed at the traditional targets of bigotry. Nearly 70% of victims were blacks, Jews or gay men.

The county logged 550 hate crimes in 1990, a 45% increase over the 378 incidents reported in 1989. Of the total, 275 were racial, 150 were religiously motivated and 125 were based on intolerance of homosexuality.

“I think the tension level is up,” said Eugene Mornell, executive director of the Commission on Human Relations. “We still haven’t learned to live together.”

The largest increase was recorded in racially motivated crimes, which constitute 50% of all reported hate crimes. In 1989, racial crimes accounted for 44.2% of the total, and in 1988, they represented 35.5% of all incidents.

As in previous years, blacks were the most frequent victims, targeted in 143 of the reported attacks. Forty-nine were directed at Asians, 35 at Latinos, 26 at Arabs, 12 at Anglos, five at Armenians, three at American Indians, and one each at an Iranian and a racially mixed victim.

Of the religious attacks, 125 were against Jews, 12 against Muslims, 10 against Catholics, two at nondenominational Christians and one at a Baptist.

Gay men were the targets of 110 hate crimes, lesbians were the targets of 11 and gays and lesbians together were the targets of four.