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Hate crimes edge higher in Los Angeles County in 2014

Hate crimes edge higher in Los Angeles County in 2014
LGBT activists and community leaders lie in the intersection of 1st and Main streets in August to protest  violence against transgender and "gender-non-conforming'' people. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A married lesbian couple were sitting with their kids in a Long Beach laundromat last fall when a man said, "I hope your kids don't turn out gay." He lunged at them with a knife and ran away.

A Latina mother and her children were outside their Boyle Heights apartment last September when a Latino man started yelling racial slurs about her biracial kids. Days later, he put his hand on her son's head and told her to move out, calling it a "verbal warning" before something happened to the child.

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That same week, someone painted "Hail Satan 666" on church grounds in Lancaster.

The incidents were among 389 hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County last year, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. After trending downward for six years, hate crimes rose 1% in 2014 from the previous year.

The slight uptick came as the number of hate crimes statewide decreased nearly 10% last year. But the good news for Los Angeles County is that the number of hate crimes reported in 2014 was the second-lowest total in 25 years. The lowest number came in 2013, with 384 hate crimes reported.

Robin Toma, the commission's executive director, said the county "has come a long way" in recent years in combating hate crimes — those in which a victim's race, disability, gender or sexual orientation is a substantial factor. Still, the local increase "is an indicator that we shouldn't be sitting on our laurels," he said.

The report also came with a major caveat: The vast majority of hate crimes are never reported or are not classified as hate crimes by law enforcement agencies, authorities say.

As in the past, four groups were overwhelmingly affected by hate crimes: African Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews and Latinos. Those groups represented 86% of hate crimes. Race was the primary motivating factor (51%), followed by sexual orientation (28%) and religion (19%).

The number of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose 14%, to 108, last year, with crimes targeting gay men rising 31%. Yet those numbers followed a dramatic decline the year before.

The rate of violent crimes based on sexual orientation grew to 81% from 71% — the highest rate of violence since 2003.

Christopher Argyros, program manager for the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Anti-Violence Project, said violence against LGBT people persists "despite increases in public acceptance."

"We continue to have a steady stream of hate crime survivors seek services and support," Argyros said.

Hate crimes against transgender people fell to 15 last year from 19, but the "rate of violence was extremely high," the report says. All of those crimes were against transgender women (11 of whom were Latina), and all but one were violent.

When hate crimes were based on race in 2014, blacks were victims 69% of the time — though they constitute less than 9% of the county's population.

The report says blacks and Latinos target each other with disturbing consistency, particularly in neighborhoods that have undergone "rapid demographic shifts from being primarily black to primarily Latino."

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Twitter: @haileybranson

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