Despite a slight decline in the overall number of hate crimes reported statewide, incidents targeting Latinos and Jewish people in California surged last year, an uptick experts have blamed on vitriolic rhetoric over immigration and emboldened hate groups.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes surged 21%. There were 104 hate crimes against Jews reported in 2017. A year later, that number jumped to 126, according to a report from the California attorney general’s office released Tuesday.
Hate crimes against Latinos also grew, increasing about 18%. Law enforcement agencies across the state reported 149 hate crimes against Latinos in 2018, up from 126 the year prior, the report states.
The increases occur as hate crimes against African Americans, Muslims and gay men showed slight decreases statewide last year. Overall, the report notes a 2.5% decline in hate crimes in California in 2018.
A report issued earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism noted that Los Angeles recorded its highest number of reported hate crimes in nearly a decade. That study showed a nearly 13% increase in 2018 over the year before.
Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said the increase in reported hate crimes against Jewish people and Latinos isn’t unexpected as heated political rhetoric and long-perpetuated stereotypes focused on select groups often can translate to a rise in crimes committed against them.
“Unfortunately, this is something we’ve seen quite often,” he said.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, hate crimes against Muslims increased. Now, contentious debates over Latino immigration have thrust that group into a similar position, Levin said.
“It’s a little bit of reshuffling of victim choices based on the negative stereotypes that are the flavor of the month or the year in the divisive political cauldron that we’re in,” he said. “Different groups tend to have an ebb and flow according to various incremental as well as catalytic events.”
However, anti-Semitic rhetoric has been much more sustained and precipitous nationwide — and specifically in California, where there is a large population of Jewish people, Levin said.
Anti-Semitic incidents around the nation have been increasing since 2013, with the biggest all-time annual jump coming in 2017, when the tally climbed 57% to 1,986, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Hate crimes against Jews grew by 37% in the same period, according to a separate FBI analysis.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and chief executive, told The Times in February that the nation’s charged political environment has played a role in steep increases in anti-Semitism.
“Things are polarized in ways we haven’t seen in recent memory. People are on edge in part because they are following their leaders,” he said. “When leaders at the highest levels use incredibly intemperate language and repeat the rhetoric of extremists, we shouldn’t be surprised when young people — let alone others — imitate what they see.”
In December, a group of junior high students in Ojai lay down on a field together in the shape of a swastika and shared a photo in a group chat that included racist comments.
In January, a Tarzana synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. Months later, anti-Semitic fliers were posted across the San Fernando Valley, including near at least two schools.
One of the fliers included a picture of a swastika with the question, “Is this a hate symbol?” Underneath, it showed a Star of David with the question, “How about this?” Messages on at least one of the fliers appeared to equate Nazism with Zionism and the state of Israel.
The fliers appeared roughly a week after similar posters were found around Newport Harbor High School in Orange County. Those missives showed up on the heels of a backlash over a viral photo that showed Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high school students posed in a Nazi salute while gathered around a swastika formed by red plastic cups during a house party in March.
In April, a gunman opened fire on the last day of Passover inside Chabad of Poway in San Diego County, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounding two others. The brutal act came exactly six months after a gunman killed 11 people and wounded seven others during services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The man charged in the Pittsburgh attack reportedly accused Jewish people online of helping aid caravans of Central American migrants who made their way to the U.S. border to seek asylum in the days before the shooting.
“Jews are consistently held responsible for corrupting national institutions, but also helping other groups flood in,” Levin said. “With the rise of neo-Nazism, white nationalism, internet hate and a growing distrust of communal institutions, Jews are seen as manipulating everything from government to immigration patterns.”
The new state data do not list any hate-related homicides in 2018 despite significant reporting of at least two killings in which authorities have said race or religion was a motivating factor in Southern California, Levin said.
In Orange County, prosecutors filed a hate crime sentencing enhancement against a man accused of killing Blaze Bernstein in January 2018. Authorities allege Samuel Woodward carried out the killing because 19-year-old Bernstein was gay. In August 2018, a man fatally shot a motorist on the 91 Freeway in Gardena because of his race, according to prosecutors.
The report also notes one rape, 39 robberies and nearly 800 reports of assaults and intimidation. Violent and property offenses related to hate crimes both dipped, with 838 violent crimes and 426 property crimes reported last year, down from 860 and 451, respectively, a year earlier.
“This highlights that we have to take this slight decline in overall hate crimes with a grain of salt,” Levin said. “Misidentification of hate crimes remains a significant problem, and as we can see from many outlying areas, we’re just not getting reports.”