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Despite 13% drop in hate crimes in Orange County, attacks against AAPI and LGBTQ still on the rise

Locals like Irvine resident Vanessa Nguyen came out to a 2021 candlelight vigil in Garden Grove to stop Asian hate.
Irvine resident Vanessa Nguyen was among those attending a March 2021 candlelight vigil to stop Asian hate, held at Community Center Park in Garden Grove.
(Raul Roa)

The number of hate crimes reported in Orange County fell in 2021, but those targeting Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and the LGBTQ community continued to rise, according to a report released Thursday.

A total of 97 hate crimes were documented in the county in 2021, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission’s annual report on bias-motivated events. That’s a 13% decline from the 112 logged by the commission in the prior year and the first time that figure has fallen since 2014.

Orange County had experienced a 35% spike overall in bias-motivated crimes in 2020, the largest jump seen in decades. That was largely driven by a rise in reported offenses targeting the Asian American Pacific Islander and LGBTQ communities, two trends that continued into 2021. Last year, crimes against those groups increased by 43% and 83% in Orange County, respectively, according to the report.

In one case reported last year, anti-gay slurs were carved into the hood of a victim’s car, commission officials said during a Zoom conference Thursday. Arsons, assaults and vandalism were among the other bias-motivated crimes law enforcement responded to in 2021.

And earlier this year, in May, a gunman targeted members of the Taiwanese community in a Laguna Woods church, leaving one person dead and five others wounded.

The commission’s annual reports also tracks hate incidents, which are situations in which a person or group targets people because of their race, religion or sexual orientation but does not actually break the law. The commission logged 301 such cases in 2021, a roughly 14% rise over the 263 noted in 2020.

In one example, a banner that appeared to accuse Jews, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and civil rights advocates of “white replacement” was displayed from an overpass along the 405 Freeway, near Jeffrey Road in Anaheim.

“You fricken Asians are taking over our American Community!” one person wrote in a letter sent to an Asian American household in 2021 that was shown during Thursday’s Zoom presentation. “It is not resting well with all and everybody who lives here — true statement!!! Watch Out! Pack your bags and go back to your country where you belong.”

Members of the commission cited research suggesting hate crimes and incidents may actually be taking place 24 to 48 times more often than they are being reported. Language barriers are some of the most common hurdles preventing victims from getting in touch with law enforcement and agencies that can guide them to support services.

Others challenges are rooted in cultural norms and a fear of retaliation, one of the commission’s hate crime prevention coordinators, Sara Sheikh Arvizu, said Thursday. Some who experience hate on a recurring basis may internalize it and come to believe it is the “standard of living” in America, she said.

“So many victims ... tell me ‘I was too embarrassed, so I didn’t know what to do,’ or ‘I don’t want to bother anyone,’” Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent said during Thursday’s presentation.

He urged people to notify authorities or community groups whenever they feel they might have been the victim of hate. Kent said police investigate and monitor these cases even if a crime wasn’t committed because it can help them identify trends or groups of bad actors in a community. That may help officials stop future crimes and incidents.

“We have prosecuted more than twice the number of hate crimes during the first three years of my administration compared to the prior 25 years of prior administrations,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer wrote in a statement Thursday. “I will not tolerate hate — here in Orange County — or anywhere. If I can prove it, I will prosecute haters to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last May, the Orange County district attorney’s Hate Crimes Unit was created specifically to identify and pursue bias-motivated cases. In addition, all new attorneys hired by the OCDA’s office are being trained to recognize possible hate crimes in the cases they handle, Billy Ha, one of the unit’s prosecutors, said.

In December, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a $1-million contract with the Orange County Human Relations Committee to augment efforts to combat hate. So far, they have worked on expanding the network support services available for victims and ensuring that reporting tools are accessible in multiple languages on the internet and through a telephone hotline that can be reached by dialing 211. They have also launched educational campaigns designed to direct the victims of hate crimes to those who can help, educate them about their rights and illustrate the impact bias-motivated acts have on the community.

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