Gay Men Are Leading Target of Hate Crimes : Violence: County report shows overall incidents rose 6.4% in 1993. Five Valley communities were in top 10 for reported cases.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For the first time since the county began keeping track, African Americans have been supplanted by gay men as the leading target of hate crimes, according to the 14th annual report of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

Overall hate crimes were up 6.4% in 1993, although the percentage rise was smaller than in previous years.

Gay men accounted for 27% of the 783 hate crimes logged by local law enforcement agencies and community groups in 1993; 22.9% of the hate crimes were directed against blacks and 14.6% were directed against Jews, although they accounted for 95.8% of hate crimes against religious groups. Whites were fourth.

Eugene Mornell, the commission's outgoing executive director, called the report a barometer of public opinion in that it represented the feelings of larger groups that held similar views but did not act on them.

"People are more angry, more willing to confront, willing to chance going out in public and getting caught," Mornell said.

According to the report, the San Fernando Valley was home to half of the top 10 communities in the county where hate crimes were committed. The report documented 196 of 783 incidents in 1993 as occurring in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding communities, a 10% increase over the 177 incidents committed in 1992.

Racially motivated hate crimes were the most frequently committed in the Valley, with 106 incidents reported as compared to 61 related to religion, 26 related to sexual orientation and three related to gender.

The report's more detailed breakdowns, such as by gay males and African Americans, were not reported region by region. However, sexual orientation crimes as a whole rose 85% in the Valley over the previous year, nearly twice as fast as the countywide increase of 49.7%.

Hate crimes based on religion committed in the Valley also followed a countywide trend, dropping slightly last year over the previous year to 61 incidents, 11 of which were reported in Woodland Hills, earning it a second-place ranking in the county for the most such incidents.

Commission officials acknowledge that the document may be underreporting the actual number of hate crimes committed in the county because it is based on crime reports and data voluntarily submitted by law enforcement and community organizations, a submission system that varies, sometimes drastically, from year to year.

For example, just nine law enforcement agencies provided hate crime data for the 1993 report--including the district attorney's office, the county sheriff, the Los Angeles Police Department and local police departments--compared to 16 agencies in 1992.

"This year many of the law enforcement agencies didn't even bother to report," said Celia Zager, a commission spokeswoman. "We depend on them, we're not out there gathering it ourselves."

The report shows that countywide there has been a steady escalation in violence, with assaults now accounting for 43.2% of all hate crimes. Last year, for the first time since the county began keeping records in 1980, more hate crimes were committed in public places than at residences.

Commission officials, who called for stiffer penalties against hate crimes, said the most dramatic increase came in incidents based on sexual orientation, which rose 49.7% from the previous year. Gay-rights advocates attributed this to greater willingness by victims to come forward and to a higher public profile about issues such as gays in the military.

"We're not surprised, but we're alarmed," said Liza Culick of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. "There's been an increased visibility. We're out there demonstrating, fighting for our rights. That . . . foments hatred."

In the Valley and surrounding communities, as elsewhere, some of the attacks on homosexuals were more violent than others: A gay man killed in Palmdale in July was one of three men murdered in the county last year based on his sexual orientation; members of a North Hollywood gay and lesbian church feared they were the target of coordinated hate attacks after a sign was found propped up against their church that read "$10 For Gay Lives Reward," followed by a burglary and other harassment incidents.

Frank Berry, a spokesman for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in Los Angeles, said the countywide increase in crimes against gays may actually reflect higher visibility for gays rather than real progress for African Americans.

"Something needs to be done stop hate crimes across the board and not just against one segment of the population, so that we can look at consistent and steady decreases instead of a few percentage points," Berry said.

"Whenever the economy is bad people tend to take out their frustrations on minorities," he continued. "There needs to be more education for people perpetrating these crimes and also greater enforcement of penalties because if it's a slap on wrist, they won't think about it twice."

His concern for enhanced enforcement was echoed by representatives of other racial groups.

"All too often we hear of police showing up to a home where there's racist graffiti on the wall and the family is told, 'Oh, it's only kids,' " said Kathy Imahara, a civil rights staff attorney with the Asian Pacific-American Legal Center. "That family is not going to report such an incident again."

Crimes against Asian Americans dropped significantly from 80 in 1992 to 44 in 1993. But commission officials believe crimes against both Asian Americans and Latinos are underreported because of language problems, cultural barriers and fears of immigration authorities.

Van Nuys led the Valley in hate crimes with 30 incidents. In fact, only the central Los Angeles area, Hollywood and Long Beach garnered higher figures in 1993 for crimes committed against people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.

LAPD Detective Mitch Robins, who investigated hate crimes in the Van Nuys Division last year, was not surprised to hear that 30 incidents had been committed in his division, and he even speculated that the figure was actually higher. Robins said the cases he investigated shared no single motive, nor were they limited to any particular group of victims.

"There are a myriad of different crimes motivated by hatred and prejudice," Robins said. "In Van Nuys the scales weren't tipping in any one direction."

Canoga Park, North Hollywood, San Fernando and Woodland Hills were also among the top 10 communities reporting the highest number of hate crimes countywide, with each of those reporting 10 or more incidents.

Hate crimes that made headlines in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding communities in 1993 ranged from a Lancaster couple who discovered a huge cross bearing hate messages and threats erected on their lawn to a North Hills couple arrested and subsequently convicted for conspiring to manufacture and sell illegal weapons to an undercover FBI agent posing as a white supremacist.

But not all the crimes were as high profile.

Robins of the Van Nuys Division investigated six hate crimes in as many weeks in February and March of last year, including one incident in which three Latinos pelted an African American man with rocks and bottles while speaking racial slurs.

Imahara added that hate crimes seem to mirror what issues are being debated by politicians and in the media, and that anti-Asian sentiment may merely be an ebb this year as other topics take to the fore.

"There were a lot of things happening in 1992 that were fomenting 50 year-old hatreds, there were the riots, Bush's trip to Japan, the whole Japan bashing thing and buying American," Imahara said.

In 1993, a year in which more U. S. politicians increasingly blamed immigrants for the country's economic woes, about half the crimes logged against Asians and Latinos included anti-immigrant sentiments, Mornell said.

While hate crimes have risen each year since 1985, the percentage increase has slowed. The county recorded a 22% rise in hate crimes in 1991, a 10% rise in 1992 and 6.4% last year.

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