Hate crimes in Los Angeles became more brutal and frequent in 1992, while racially motivated incidents shot up substantially from the year before, county officials reported Monday.
The 13th annual County Human Relations Commission hate crimes report documented a record 736 incidents in 1992, up 11% from 1991. African-Americans and gay men were the top two targets of hate crimes.
Racially motivated hate crimes increased by nearly 24%, while crimes related to sexual orientation and religion decreased slightly. Nearly half the hate crimes were assaults, including three racially motivated murders.
Eugene Mornell, executive director of the County Human Relations Commission, attributed the rise in hate crimes to an increase in crime in general, a heightened sense of tension and fear about demographic changes in the region, the recession, population growth and what he called "a declining level of civility and concern for others in our society."
"People are more angry, more hostile, there's more bitterness out there," Mornell said. "Hate crimes are a barometer of feelings out there in the community. . . . There are many people out there who are threatened by the changes in their personal economic circumstances, and they use this occasion to stereotype and scapegoat others."
Mornell said the number of incidents might have been higher if law enforcement agencies had been able to accurately identify hate crimes during last year's rioting.
The report acknowledges that although many Asian-owned businesses in Koreatown and the Cambodian corridor in Long Beach were damaged or destroyed because of their ownership, location or Asian-language signs, most of those crimes are not included in the document.
The videotaped beating of trucker Reginald O. Denny is not counted in the report because the Los Angeles Police Department did not identify the incident as a hate crime, Mornell said. However, the murder of a white motorcyclist in Long Beach and an Asian man in Compton during the riots are included in the report.
The commission documented 434 racially motivated hate crimes in 1992, compared to 351 incidents in 1991. Blacks were targeted most frequently, followed by Latinos and whites.
Many of the Asian-American victims were targeted because of mistaken identity, according to the report. A Thai woman was mistaken for a Korean and beaten. Graffiti with references to the killing of African-American teen-ager Latasha Harlins by a Korean-American grocer was scrawled on the walls of an Asian-owned grocery store. The graffiti was anti-Chinese although neither the shopkeeper nor the woman who killed Harlins were Chinese.
Crimes based on sexual orientation dipped slightly for the first time since the commission started investigating them in 1987--161 incidents in 1992, compared to 169 the year before. The vast majority of attacks were against gay men, mostly in areas associated with large gay populations.
More than 45% of the hate crimes in 1992 involved assaults, 19% involved criminal threats and 24% involved graffiti and vandalism.
The report cited a dramatic drop in the number of people arrested for hate crimes, from 95 in 1991 to 50 in 1992. Of the 161 incidents against gay men and lesbians, only seven arrests have been made.
"In the short term, the answer to hate crime is more effective law enforcement," Mornell said. "The long term, it's more community education, meaning the work to get people in this very diverse community to live with each other and to live with the diversity we have here."
A hate crime is an official classification within the California Penal Code in which a criminal act is directed at an individual, institution or business because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Not included in the county's hate crime statistics are hate literature and rallies, graffiti in public places such as freeway overpasses, and name-calling and epithets when not accompanied by an assault or other threats.
On the Rise The L.A. County Human Relations Commission documented a record number of hate crimes in 1992, nearly half of them assaults.
Victims Number African-American 168 Gay men 147 Jewish 119 Latino 89 Anglo 88 Asian 80 Lesbian 13 Protestant 8 Female 8 Other 16