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Hate crimes in 2019 reached highest level in a decade, FBI report shows

FBI agent. (FBI/Released)

Hate crimes in the United States surged to the highest level in more than a decade in 2019, a year that also recorded the highest number of hate-motivated killings, according to the FBI’s annual report on hate crimes released Monday, Nov. 16.

In 2019, there were 51 hate-motivated homicides, including the 23 people who were killed in a shooting at a Wal-Mart store in El Paso where a 21-year-old gunman targeted Latinos. According to the FBI report, there were 7,314 hate crimes in 2019, up from 7,120 the year before. The FBI defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person’s race, religion, gender and sexual orientation among other categories.

California reported a total of 1,221 hate crimes in 2019, of which a vast majority were motivated by race (524), religion (208) and sexual orientation (235), according to the FBI. The city of Los Angeles saw 118 hate crimes motivated by race, 81 by religion and 70 by sexual orientation. The city of Riverside reported 15 hate crimes, 10 of which were motivated by race and the city of San Bernardino reported eight, four of which were motivated by race and four by sexual orientation.

Escalating violence

One of the most disturbing trends in the 2019 hate crimes report, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, is the fact that aggravated assaults rose for the sixth straight year to the highest level since 2001.

Such attacks rose 5.9% from 818 in 2018 to 866 in 2019, and have increased 47% since 2013, the center said Monday in a report analyzing the FBI data.

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“The aggravated assaults bothered me the most,” Levin said. “What the data is reflecting is how widespread and diverse the violence is. Even if the massacre in El Paso had not been included, 2019 would have been a record year based on FBI enumeration.”

As with previous years, white supremacist ideology was the main driver behind the deadly incidents, Levin said.

The overall surge in violent hate crimes was fueled by an increase in attacks, particularly against Latinos and Jews, according to the FBI. The agency reported 953 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2019, which was a 14% increase from 2018 and the highest since 2008. Hate crimes against Latinos increased from 485 incidents in 2018 to 527 in 2019, which is a 9% increase.

“We’re getting an X-Ray, which when overlaid on to a template of other data, tells me that we’re in a new era of hate crime and domestic extremism,” Levin said.

Orange County also saw an upward trend in aggravated assaults and violent hate crimes, said Alison Edwards, CEO of OC Human Relations, a nonprofit that helps compile hate crime data for the county. Aggravated assaults motivated by hate were up 13% in 2019 compared to the previous year in Orange County.

“This uptick in violent hate crimes is worrying because it shows people are going from an impulsive act such as yelling out a racial epithet to an act that includes violence,” she said.

Reporting, training needed

Edwards said she believes polarization plays a role in how people view each other.

“When we live in our own echo chambers, it becomes possible to dehumanize each other,” she said. “Once that trust erodes, that creates a fertile ground for hate and violence. We stop seeing each other as human.”

Edwards said it is important to remember that hate crime is underreported, which means these reports are only a snapshot, not a complete picture. It is also important for more police departments to send their data to the FBI. Most agencies in Southern California don’t report hate crime numbers to the FBI.

“It’s also important to make sure all officers understand how to identify and investigate a hate crime when it occurs,” Edwards said. “For example, police officers need to be trained and educated about the symbols and language of hate so they can document incidents accurately. Doing so will make the public feel like it’s worth reporting these hate crimes. As it is, these are crimes that are very difficult to prove because you’re dealing with someone’s internal motivation.”

Communities on edge

About six months after the 2018 shooting that killed 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, a man armed with an AR-15 barged into the Chabad of Poway synagogue and opened fire, killing one woman and injuring three others. That attack took place on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday.

The FBI report confirms what the Anti-Defamation League found in its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which hit an all-time high nationwide in 2019 and showed a 56% increase in such incidents in California during a three-year period ending in 2019, said Jeffrey Abrams, regional director of the ADL’s Los Angeles chapter.

“The tenor of our national dialogue, the divisive and polarizing rhetoric and the (political) climate we’re in, contribute to that,” Abrams said. “A number of people have also been emboldened and energized to act out their hate. It puts not just the Jewish community, but all communities on edge.”

ADL also monitors and tracks the increase in extremist activity, which has also been steadily increasing, Abrams said.

“One of the best ways to protect ourselves is to bring it out in the open, not to amplify it, but to help us fight it,” he said.

Abrams agreed more law enforcement agencies should report hate crime data to the FBI. In 2019, 86% of participating law enforcement agencies reported zero hate crimes in their jurisdictions. That includes 71 cities with a population of 100,000 or more, nine of which are located in the Los Angeles area, Abrams said.

“Good data leads to good policy,” he said. “We encourage law enforcement to participate so we can address the issue and stem this tide of hate crimes.”

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(c) 2020 The Orange County Register

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.