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For fifth year in a row, hate crimes rise in Orange County — and by 24%

A window sign in Santee shows a response to a recent incident where a man wore a KKK hood inside a grocery store.
(Jill Nelson / Union Tribune)

From slurs to physical confrontations, hate crimes in Orange County rose in 2019 for the fifth year in a row, and by a huge leap, 24%.

The findings were released this week by the nonprofit Orange County Human Relations Commission in its 2019 Hate Crimes Report. The review cited 83 hate crimes documented by community groups, education institutions and law enforcement.

The annual report, which detailed 67 hate crimes in 2018, covers both hate crimes and hate incidents, the latter of which dropped from 165 two years earlier to 156 last year.

A majority of the crimes involved the perpetrator attacking the victim for his or her race, national origin or ethnicity.

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One incident involved an attacker hurling anti-Latino slurs while hitting the victim with a metal pipe. In another incident, the attacker threatened to “pop” the victim’s head, while threatening the person with anti-Black slurs.

Although Black people constitute less than 2% of Orange County’s nearly 3.2 million residents, they were the most targeted racial group, according to the report.

Among the hate crimes motivated by religious prejudice, members of the Jewish community were the primary targets, representing about two-thirds of 44 hate incidents, followed by Catholics, other Christians and Muslims, according to the report. Among crimes related to victims’ sexual orientation and gender identity, a majority of the cases were antigay, followed by antifemale and antitransgender.

In one incident last fall, Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke had been hosting a meeting for young adults who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning at the LGBTQ Center OC in Santa Ana when someone threw a glass bottle at the building. It shattered on the pavement outside the meeting room.

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“I had to move them to safety right away,” Camacho-Van Dyke said in an interview. “I wasn’t sure if they were going to come back, and what I would tell people who aren’t accepting is that we’re just like everyone else. We have loving partners, we have jobs, we have families. We’re all real people — we don’t deserve to have hate and discrimination.”

Overwhelmingly, hate crimes occurred in public places, the report documented, followed by places of worship, residences, school campuses and workplaces and businesses. The most reported hate-based criminal offense was vandalism, followed by aggravated assaults, simple assaults, criminal threats and harassment.

Perhaps the most visible hate incident in 2019 happened at a private party in March, when a gathering of Orange County teens raised their arms in Nazi salutes while standing around a cluster of cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. Their photo, posted on social media, unleashed a firestorm of national attention, prompting local Jewish residents to connect with the high school students to help educate them about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

“We cannot allow fear, hatred and bigotry to divide us. We must listen to one another, communicate respectfully, build bridges of understanding, and support each other through these traumatic events,” said Michael Reynolds, chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, who helped to introduce the report.

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Officials worry that next year, the numbers could spiral higher, exacerbated by the global pandemic and the backlash it has triggered against some ethnic groups.

Victims and their family members agree.

This past March, Jenny Hwang was pumping gas in Fullerton when a stranger drove by, cursing at her from his car.

“F— Chinese! Coronavirus!” he yelled. Shocked, she jumped into the driver’s seat and followed his vehicle along Harbor Boulevard, just in time to take a snapshot of his license plate. Back home, her husband later alerted the police to ask for help.

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“We were so sad they could not do anything because according to them, the man was inside his car,” Simon Hwang said. “I don’t understand why police cannot track him down to give him a verbal warning. Things like this should never happen and the more people who report it, the more attention it will get so others realize this is wrong.”

In May, Lauren Johnson-Norris, an Irvine attorney specializing in child welfare, was conducting a Zoom webinar on parenting during the pandemic. Suddenly, two men using aliases interrupted the dialogue, one of them asking questions about abortion before the other started spewing profanity, then projected a red swastika on the screen. She struggled to mute them online.

“It was certainly chilling,” she recalled. “Because we were live, the important thing to do was to remain calm, to reiterate to anyone watching that we will not tolerate hate and anti-Semitism in our city. In fact, hate ... never has been welcomed in the county — ever.”


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