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Hate Crimes Down 17.6% in L.A. County

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hate crimes in Los Angeles County dropped 17.6% last year, thanks in large part to the region’s rebounding economy, the county’s Commission on Human Relations said Monday.

Overall, the number of hate crimes reported in 1997 dropped to 820, from 995 the previous year. Hate crimes directed against African Americans dropped 7.5%, while those against Latinos decreased 9.5%.

Gay-bashing dropped by about 35%, and ethnicity-based crimes against Middle Easterners fell by nearly half.

In terms of sheer numbers, however, Los Angeles County continues to lead the nation in reported hate crimes.

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“It’s something we have to keep on the front burner,” said county Supervisor Don Knabe, whose Harbor and East San Gabriel Valley district includes several areas where hate crimes tend to be clustered. “With an ethnically diverse area, we have to be cognizant of those kinds of things at all times. And the only way to do that is through education.”

The crimes remain clustered in particular geographic areas: Crimes against gays tend to occur in West Hollywood, Hollywood and Silver Lake, whereas racially based hate crimes are grouped in Lancaster and Palmdale, Van Nuys, Hawaiian Gardens, Long Beach, the Harbor Gateway area and Azusa.

That phenomenon, said Ronald Wakabayashi, executive director of the commission, is relatively new, and is key to the particular type of ethnic hatred that is causing problems in Los Angeles county.

The crimes are clustered, he and others said, in neighborhoods or cities that are undergoing demographic shifts as the region’s population changes. So in neighborhoods that had been mostly white, for example, there may be hate crimes against members of new ethnic groups as they move in.

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A particularly stark view of this demographically based problem can be seen in places like the Harbor Gateway area and Hawaiian Gardens, where African Americans are beginning to move into neighborhoods that were once largely Latino.

According to the report, the vast majority of hate crimes committed by Latino men--about 110 out of 151 crimes--were against African Americans.

That represents a significant increase over last year, according to Wakabayashi, and took place even as hate crimes committed by other groups declined.

Part of the problem, according to Miguel Santana, assistant chief deputy to county Supervisor Gloria Molina, is that gang members of a majority ethnic group in a neighborhood are using their power to intimidate minorities.

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“It’s discouraging,” Santana said. “A lot of these young Latinos who are in gangs have been . . . doing targeted attacks on African Americans in the neighborhoods that are changing.”

Similarly, he said, some African American gangs are targeting Latinos who live in mostly black neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Indeed, Southern California, with its diversity of lifestyles and ethnic cultures, remains a place where members of just about any group may be targeted.

Last November, for example, a Peruvian man was attacked by a man who said he was from Mexico and didn’t like Peruvians.

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A Latina in Palmdale received threatening phone calls from a woman who said she would “get blacks to ‘do some harm,’ ” to her, according to the report.

“You guys can’t go to the cops because you’re illegal,” the caller said. “I know where your daughter goes to school, and I’m going to run over her.”

In November in Hawaiian Gardens, three Latino suspects were arrested after the home of an African American family was firebombed.

The Human Relations Commission cautioned against reading too much into the reduction of ethnic attacks and gay-bashing, pointing out that the total, although lower than last year, remains the second-highest in the 20 years that such crimes have been tracked in the county.

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Hate crimes against Jews, for example--which made up all but eight of the religion-based attacks last year--increased slightly, from 99 in 1996 to 100 last year. Vandalism and other attacks on Jews amounted to 12% of all hate crimes reported, and took place mostly in Los Angeles.

Further, much of the reduction in attacks on gays and lesbians can be attributed to lax reporting on the part of community groups in Long Beach and Los Angeles, according to Wakabayashi.

“Our speculation is that the numbers [of gay-bashing attacks] are down for those reasons, not because some kind of cure is in place.”

Still, he said, racially motivated hate crimes are down by nearly 10%. That, he said, is partly because of increased enforcement and community outreach efforts, and--perhaps more important--because of the region’s climb out of recession.

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“The healthy economy helps us,” Wakabayashi said. Fewer people “are stressed out enough to go over the edge.”

“When things get bad in the economy, people look for scapegoats,” said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who served on the county’s delegation to the recent White House Conference on Hate Crime. “The question is really what happens the next time there is a downward turn in the economy.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Overcoming Hate

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Hate crimes in Los Angeles County declined by 17.6% from 1996 to 1997. The biggestproportion continues to be racially motivated.

Source: Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations


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