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Orange County hate crimes rise 14%

They called him words so vile that he wondered if they were taking some perverse pleasure in taunting him.

The slurs rang out each time he left or came home to the south Orange County condo he shared with his partner, reaching the point where he thought about just giving up and moving.

“They were destroying my life ... with the worst experience of my life,” said the Laguna Niguel resident, who asked to go by the initials D.P. to protect his identity.

The nine-month barrage of homophobic heckling, ending when the homeowners association finally forced his neighbors to leave, is part of the statistics in the county’s latest hate crime report, which — after years of decline — shows an upswing.

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The annual report, released by the Orange County Human Relations Commission, details a 14% increase in reported hate crimes, most of them targeting people because of their race or religion. African Americans, who make up 2% of the county’s 3.2 million residents, suffered the most with 19 reported hate crimes.

In all, 64 reported hate crimes occurred in 2011, in a county that has grown increasingly more diverse.

“I would hope there would be a day when you wouldn’t see 64 documented hate crimes in our community,” said Rusty Kennedy, who heads the commission and who began recording the statistics 21 years earlier. “But I fear they’re happening much more frequently than we’re aware.”

The attacks on those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are among the most worrisome findings in the report, said commission supporters, citing concerns that the problem is festering in county schools.

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It’s about being safe,” Kennedy said, “and if kids aren’t safe, they don’t grow up healthy, they can’t learn.”

There’s increasing violence on campuses where students taunt classmates or administrators prevent the Gay Student Alliance from hosting meetings or posting news on bulletin boards, commission supporters say. At one high school, during a Mr. Fullerton pageant, an assistant principal urged a student offstage after the teenager said he hoped gay unions would be legal in California within a decade. Elsewhere, administrators discouraged students from celebrating Harvey Milk Day, honoring the famed gay rights activist.

For LGBT youths, “schools in Orange County are very dangerous places,” said Kevin O’Grady, who oversees The Center Orange County, which provides services to the LGBT population.

But such students aren’t alone. Outside class, Jewish children get money thrown at them to see if they will pick it up, playing off a stereotype, said Melissa Carr, director of special projects at the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s shocking. Parents have no idea this is happening.”

Overall, eight Jews reported being targets of hate crimes in 2011, up from three the year before.

“The data is very important. What’s more important is that this community pauses, at least annually, to talk about these crimes,” says David Maggard, Irvine’s police chief and a commission member. He urged people to come forward to share their stories because “if we can’t identify who the victims are, we can’t care for the victims.”

D.P., who has been with his partner for 21 years, said the jeers led him to see a counselor. His situation grew so desperate that he walked door to door, collecting signatures and 34 anti-harassment statements from other neighbors, finally handing them to the police and his homeowners association.

“The more people who can get together on an issue — the more powerful” you can be in getting results, he said.

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In these incidents, “there is always more than one victim,” said Ameena Mirza Qazi, attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s not only that person who’s affected — it’s the whole community.”

Her solution: “We say you fight hate speech with more speech.”

anh.do@latimes.com


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