‘An epidemic of hate’: Anti-Asian hate crimes in California jumped 177% in 2021

Youth Against Hate rally for solidarity in light of anti-Asian violence and hate crimes in Los Angeles.
Calvin Truong, from left, Bailey Nguyen and Leanna Luu participate in a Youth Against Hate demonstration to protest anti-Asian violence in Los Angeles in May 2021.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The number of hate crimes in California rose for the third year in a row in 2021 and included a sizable uptick in the number of anti-Asian crimes, according to a report from the state attorney general.

The California Department of Justice released its annual report on hate crimes on Tuesday morning, noting 1,763 reported hate crimes, up 33% from the year prior.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans saw another year of triple-digit percentage increases, with crimes increasing 177.5% from 2020 to 2021, according to the report. Over the last year, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from 89 to 247.

“Today’s report reflects a grim reality our diverse communities know too well,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said at a news conference Tuesday morning. Bonta pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as giving way to “an epidemic of hate.”

Bonta said that hate crimes have increased to a level California hasn’t seen since the spike in the aftermath of 9/11. In 2001, California reported an all-time high in hate crimes as the number of incidents jumped to 2,261.

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Anti-Asian crimes have become a larger portion of the state’s hate crimes involving race. Two years ago, about 8% of race-based hate crimes involved Asian Americans. In 2021, that number rose to 21%.

During that time, the largest share of race-based hate crimes targeted Black people. Anti-Black hate crimes rose 13% to 513 in 2021.

Hate crimes against Latinos also saw a 30% increase in 2021, and anti-Jewish hate crimes rose 32%.

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation rose as well over the last year. The report notes a 48% increase in hate crimes involving sexual orientation biases, with crimes rising from 205 in 2020 to 303 in 2021. Most of those incidents included anti-gay hate crimes against men, according to the report.

At the same time, the number of reported anti-transgender hate crimes fell about 30% last year, dropping from 54 to 38.

Los Angeles County saw the largest number of hate crimes within the state, with 630 crimes reported in 2021. The city of Los Angeles was found to have the most hate crimes among large U.S. cities in a study released earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. The study found sharp increases in the number of hate crimes reported across the country in 2021.

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Bigotry has become more pervasive in recent years, and has spiked particularly around “conflictual events” such as elections and protests, said Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

“It’s not just the darkest corners of the internet anymore,” Levin said. “It’s in every space from sports to gaming.”

Hate crimes saw a sharp uptick in June 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, Levin said. Historically, hate crimes tend to fall after a spike, but that didn’t happen in 2020. Instead, the trend of increased hate crimes has become more “sticky and elongated,” Levin said.

The report was compiled using data reported by local law enforcement agencies. However, as some communities may be more hesitant to report crimes to law enforcement, Levin said the numbers could be an undercount.

“We have massive underreporting when it comes to hate crimes,” Levin said. “This is really a snapshot of a trend as opposed to the actual number.”

Reports of anti-Asian hate crimes began to tick up in early 2020 as anti-Asian sentiment coalesced around the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins in China and the rhetoric of then-President Trump.

What followed were assaults on Asian people in Oakland and San Francisco and the deadly shootings of six Asian women at Atlanta-area spas in March 2021.

“These forms of discrimination and violence against our communities did not start with the pandemic nor is new,” said Cirian Villavicencio, a member of the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs.

“From Japanese internment to the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, our communities have been historically marginalized and stereotyped as perpetual foreigners,” Villavicencio said.


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Other advocates pointed to increasing numbers of Americans subscribing to racist ideologies such as the “great replacement theory,” which alleges a plot to diminish the power of white people. The ideology fueled the racist intentions behind the shooter who killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., last month.

“America is increasingly polarized; people are isolated and get their news and information from different sources,” said Russell Jeung, a professor at San Francisco State and one of the co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate. “That has contributed to the overall increase in racism, which contributes to anti-Asian racism.”