L.A. County hate crimes drop 4%


Los Angeles County saw an overall 4% drop in hate crimes last year, while crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people increased, prompted in part by last November’s highly charged Proposition 8 initiative, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California, according to a report released Thursday.

There were 134 sexual-orientation hate crimes reported last year, up from 111 in 2007, and were more likely to be violent than hate crimes motivated by race or religion, according to the annual Hate Crime Report by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

“I am very sad to be here today because my presence means that my community -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people -- were horribly impacted by hate crimes in 2008,” Lorri Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, said at a news conference.

“Anti-gay and anti-transgender hate crimes do not happen in a vacuum,” she said. “They happen in the context of a society that still tolerates and even promotes discrimination against us.”

Robin Toma, executive director of the Human Relations Commission, said the data underscored the importance of the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends federal hate-crime protection to victims of sexual-orientation crimes.

Much of the overall decrease in hate crimes was connected with a 16% decline in racially motivated crimes. Some of those racial crimes, however, were tied to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

Across the country there were numerous cases of vandalism, displays of nooses and acts of intimidation, and in Los Angeles eight cases were reported in which homes, cars and other property displaying Obama signs or stickers were vandalized with swastikas or racial slurs, Toma said.

“While hate crimes targeting African Americans decreased, they still remain by far the largest group of hate crime victims,” Toma said. “They are 61% of racial hate crime victims and yet comprise only 9% of the county population.”

Latino victims remained the second-largest targeted group and the percentage of crimes against them remained the same. Crimes targeting Asians, Middle Easterners, Armenians and whites declined.

Although religious hate crimes rose 14%, that increase is attributed to 15 crimes targeting the Church of Scientology, Toma said. Two-thirds of those crimes involved similar threatening letters sent to various church branches that were probably from the same individual, he said.

“Every year this report provides a startling snapshot of the face of hatred in Los Angeles County,” said Sandra Thomas, commission president.