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California Hate Crimes Up; Blacks, Jews, Gay Men Targets

Tom Garing cleans up racist graffiti painted on the side of a mosque in what officials are calling an apparent hate crime in Roseville, Calif., Feb. 1, 2017.
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press
Tom Garing cleans up racist graffiti painted on the side of a mosque in what officials are calling an apparent hate crime in Roseville, Calif., Feb. 1, 2017.
California Hate Crimes Up; Blacks, Jews, Gay Men Targets
GUESTS:Oscar Garcia, San Diego Deputy District Attorney, hate crimes division Dr. Andre Branch, president, San Diego chapter of NAACP

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The California Attorney General's office is reporting an increase in hate crimes in the state last year. For the second year in the row than ever crimes motivated by bias against a person's race, religion, or sexual orientation increased double digits. Those increases follow several years of hate crime decline in California. In 2016, San Diego county had the second highest number of hate crimes among counties across the state. Joining me is Oscar Garcia of the hate crime division. Welcome to the program. Thank you. And Doctor Andre Branch is here. Welcome. Thank you. Oscar Garcia, hate crimes jumped and as I mentioned this comes after period were California soft a really sharp decline in those crimes. What you think we are seeing an increase? Part of the reason is people are more aware of hate crimes. More review victims are reporting them and there is biased behavior out there. We all know that over the last year and a half or so with everything in the news more people are acting out. We have seen a spike in hate incidences. People are more pull to use ugly words and fall within a protection of First Amendment. They seem to be acting out a lot more. It's not surprising that the numbers have gone up. According to a report, there were 101 hate crime victims in San Diego county in 2016. There were 94 in 2015. What percentage of those cases make it to your office where they are prosecuted? The only ones we could act upon are those were a suspect has been we identified. That's always been a troubling thing about these types of crimes compared to other types of crimes that we've prosecuted. We have a smaller percentage of suspects. The police are where of the reports I think for last year we prosecuted 100% of those cases. So clearly over 90% over the last several years we have been able to file hate crime charges in those cases identified by local police to bring to our office. Hate crimes against African-Americans are still the single largest number in the report at more than 250 across the state last year. , to our numbers here in San Diego reflect that as well? Yes, year over year unfortunately that group has been the most targeted. Not only send Hill County but throughout the state and throughout the country. So we have a vast variety of victims occurring here within our county and those numbers to match. Doctor branch do you usually hear about reports of hate crimes when they happen? We do. We don't get the reports in the numbers as greatly as the law enforcement officials but a good number of the complaints that we get are about he crimes. What kinds of crimes are these? Are the attacks against people? Primarily hateful slogans in schools, workplaces. How do hate crimes against African-Americans affect the community? Even people who haven't been targets of those crimes? It has a very sobering and chilling effect on the community at large and report such as this are really old news. We are fully aware that our lives don't seem to matter as much as white lives in these reports come into context of a country that is in racial crisis. We see, for example, police officers and private citizens being exonerated for killing African-Americans. We also have a president who in his campaign advocated for violence. Let me ask you more questions about this new report. The attorney general's report finds the biggest increase from 2015 to 2016 is a 40% increase in crimes against gay men. How do you understand that increase? Is some of it due to the gay community be more willing to report these crimes? I think that may be part of it. Even those who were aware of hate crime laws I think they are more willing to come forward now, which is something our office encourages victims to come forward. That is always a problem with these types of crimes that many victims do not want to come forward and do not want to go through the criminal justice system because of fear of retaliation. This report that covers 2016 he crimes does not indicate an increase in crimes directed against Muslims in California. I wanted to ask you have you seen here in San Diego detected any kind of increase in anti-Muslim crimes tried The cases I see are those with the suspects have been identified. I have had those cases recent cases where it's based upon anti-Muslim. So, yes, from my perspective we've seen those cases continue to be prosecuted even though the numbers overall as far as those being reported don't reflect a high of an increase. I know there's always been a high number of anti-Jewish crimes as well and the number -- numbers are consistent with that. What you think cities and counties can do to bring down the number of hate crimes? That he crimes unit here in San Diego made a presentation to the NAC CP some years ago and something that they told us that perpetrators of hate crimes had in common the majority that are white men was a unclear fied racial identity. This truckin answer with me because my area of expertise is ethnic development. So if one of the characteristics of those who commit hate crimes is this unclear fied identity, then it seems to me one thing that we need to do is help white people understand their racial identity and following on the heels of that will be evaluating an appreciation for not their racial group but other racial groups as well. Does the DAs office continue its outreach to various communities to try to stop and educate about he crimes? Absolutely. That is one thing our office has been very progressive and active to re-encourage community groups to invite us to go out. We are happy to do anywhere from a half hour presentation to a two our presentation and I can bring along police in experts as well to talk about their view on he crimes. We encourage the public to get in contact with my office and if they want us to come out and speak to a group, -- we also got to the schools. We are happy to go out further educate the public. I've been speaking with Andre Branch and Oscar Garcia . Thank you both very much. Thank you. Thank you.

The number of hate crimes in California increased about 11 percent last year, the second consecutive double-digit increase, but the overall number still was a third lower total than a decade ago, the state's attorney general reported Monday.

Blacks, Jews and gay men were among the most frequent targets.

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There were 931 such crimes reported statewide, nearly 100 more than in 2015. That equated to about one for every 42,000 Californians.

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By comparison, there were 1,426 hate crimes reported in 2007, when the state had about 3 million fewer people than the more than 39 million in 2016.

More than half the crimes reported last year were based on the victim's race or ethnicity. Hate crimes involving a victim's sexual orientation increased about 10 percent, to 207 last year, with about three-quarters of those targeting gay men.

Less than 20 percent were because of the victim's religion, and the number declined last year. Jews, not Muslims, were the most common targets even amid heated rhetoric by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign regarding potential terror threats from Muslims.

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There are no statewide statistics on hate crimes in California since Trump took office in January.

It is the first back-to-back increase in hate crimes reported in California since 1996, though the number is less than half the spike that occurred in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, when Jews also were the leading religious target, said criminologist Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

"The good news is we have a lower number of hate crimes than we have in the past. The bad news is the trend is up," he said. "People feel disenfranchised, and there's a tribalistic tone that has come out."

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He speculated that gay men may be seeing a "spillover effect" from the increased prominence of the LGBT community and discussions of same-sex marriages.

Trump has been blamed by many for coarsening the political rhetoric. Those on both sides of the political spectrum agree angry tweets from him and at him could lead some to violence.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said as much in a statement released with the annual statistics that are submitted to his office by California law enforcement agencies and district attorneys' offices.

"Words matter, and discriminatory rhetoric does not make us stronger but divides us and puts the safety of our communities at risk," he said.

Racially motivated attacks spurred much of the overall increase last year. They increased more than 20 percent, from 428 in 2015 to 519. Those targeting whites increased from 34 to 56; those against blacks from 231 to 251.

Nearly two-thirds of all the hate crimes reported last year were violent, while the rest were property crimes.

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About 40 percent of crimes categorized as violent involved intimidation and 30 percent simple assault. About a quarter were aggravated assaults. Ninety percent of the property crimes involved vandalism.

More than 300 hate crime cases were forwarded to county prosecutors last year, and they filed charges in 220 of them. Of the cases completed by year's end, more than 80 percent resulted in convictions.