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Racial Hate Crimes and Misdemeanors : Prejudice: Although blacks are just 2% of county population, they were targeted in a third of all such incidents. Some say bias is an everyday fact of life here.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prof. Wacira Gethaiga recently went to the bank with a $3,000 check. The teller looked at his driver’s license, examined his file and consulted with the manager before completing the transaction.

“And I was not cashing the check,” he said. “I was just depositing the check.”

The Cal State Fullerton professor, who is black, believes his race was the cause of the seemingly unnecessary scrutiny. A resident of Orange County for more than 20 years, Gethaiga recounted the times he has been tailed by police in certain neighborhoods or by security guards when he shopped at department stores.

“It almost becomes second nature,” Gethaiga said. “You do get to a point where you almost expect something like that to happen.”

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That kind of treatment is nothing new, many blacks in the county said. Instead of the blatant racism and violence of the past, discrimination today often takes on a subtler facade, they said.

They talked of prospective employers being enthusiastic over the phone, then turning icy upon discovering that the applicants were black. They talked of being ignored in certain restaurants. They talked about being wrongfully accused of shoplifting.

“Because I’m so used to it, I think it’s funny,” said Stephen Finley, a 26-year-old Laguna Beach youth counselor who is black. “It’s funny to me, but it doesn’t say anything positive about America. . . . It doesn’t say anything positive about the stereotypes of African-Americans.”

Such incidents often go unreported.

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Nevertheless, a recent Orange County Hate Crime Network report showed that blacks suffer from a disproportionate number of hate crimes.

While blacks make up only 2% of the county population, they were the target in 32% of the reported racial incidents, the report said.

There were 188 reported hate crimes and related incidents last year, up 50% from the 125 reported in 1991. One reason for the increase, said Rusty Kennedy of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, was that victims have become more inclined to report the incidents to authorities.

The current economic hard times and the county’s rapidly changing demographics also contribute to the increase, Kennedy said.

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“We are experiencing some of the growing pains in the county,” Kennedy said. “We were once a suburban, predominantly white county. We have become a multiethnic county of 2.5 million.”

According to the report, people of Asian descent were second likeliest to be victimized, with about 22% of the reported incidents. Virtually every group was a target of some hate crimes last year, including seven incidents against whites.

Hate crimes against blacks are varied:

* In January, 1992, four skinhead-type youths approached a black high school student using a public phone in Woodbridge. “What are black people doing in Irvine?” they asked her. They also threatened to kill her if she was ever seen “around here again.”

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* The next month, at UC Irvine, racial slurs against black and Latino students were scrawled on the walls of a study room.

* Last March, Saddleback College’s Black Student Alliance was described as the “Jungle Bunny Student Alliance” on graffiti written on its flyers.

* The same month, a racially mixed couple in Brea found a wooden cross erected in front of their complex, along with racial remarks written on it. The family car was also vandalized.

* In May, 1992, a black man was driving in Sunset Beach when two white men on a motorcycle shouted racial epithets at him. They then pulled behind him and threw a 10-pound rock through his car’s rear window.

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* Last August, a 55-year-old black woman in Huntington Beach found racially derogatory remarks written on her car and food splattered on the vehicle.

Some African-Americans in Orange County said they’ve never experienced blatant racism. Instead, they talked about the subtle, “everyday” kind that they encounter.

“I still have women in grocery stores holding on to their purse when I’m in the store,” said Joyce Jordan, a publisher of the Black Orange, a black monthly newspaper in Orange County.

Her husband, Randall Jordan, recalled a former co-worker receiving a fax listing about 50 jokes about blacks.

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“It wasn’t the problem if he took it and kept it,” Randall Jordan said. “Instead, he took it and passed it around to his co-workers. . . . Everybody was making copies on the job.”

Finley, the youth counselor who’s also assistant pastor for a Fullerton church, didn’t understand the big fuss when the news broke about Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott and her racist remarks.

“My roommate and I looked at each other and said, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” he said. “It was not something that we should accept, but we feel that this sort of thing happened all the time.”

Some African-Americans have experienced racism with a twist.

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Christophe Beard is black, but can “pass” for white.

One time, he said, a man in a medical office mistook him for white and started talking about how blacks are responsible for increased crime and other societal ills. “Then he turned to me and said, ‘You’re not black, are you?’ I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I am.’ I kind of see his face turning red. That was the end of the conversation.”

Last year, Beard was in South Los Angeles to help out after the riots. He was in traditional African garb. One black woman, mistaking him for white, said, “I don’t know who you think you are, coming down here, dressing like that and trying to tell us what to do.”

Still, most blacks agreed that overt racism has decreased, thanks to civil rights legislation.

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“I would say that it’s gotten a little bit better,” said Dawn Brackett, a 28-year-old college student from Anaheim. “But I don’t know whether people are getting better at disguising that they are racist or not.”

Victims of Hate

Blacks comprise about 2% of Orange County’s population, but were the targets of about one-third of all hate crimes reported last year. Blacks: 32% Asians: 22 Gays, lesbians: 13 Jews: 10 Latinos: 6 Caucasians: 4 Arabs: 2 All others: 3 Multiple victims by white supremacists: 8

Source: Orange County Human Rights Commission

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