EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing CALÓ NEWS series on the state of hate in LA and California. If you are an expert on the subject, a victim, an activist or community leader, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow the series, click here.
The United States Department of Justice enforces federal hate crime laws that cover crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. The department began prosecuting hate crime cases after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, requiring the attorney general to publish an annual report on hate crimes. The FBI was tasked with gathering crime data from state and local law enforcement agencies, something that continues today.
But hate crimes were not always counted. For much of U.S. history, local and regional law enforcement groups like the Los Angeles Police Department were not required to investigate or prosecute race-based or anti-hate crimes.
As hate crimes have substantially increased, so have efforts to prevent them.
EFFORTS TO PREVENT HATE CRIMES
More recently, President Joe Biden established the White House Initiative on Hate-Motivated Violence, which aims to strengthen federal coordination on preventing, confronting and recovering from hate-motivated violence and fostering unity.
The initiative, which was introduced at last year’s United We Stand Summit, aims to financially assist institutions and law enforcement to better detect and combat the financing of domestic violent extremism, support educational institutions to improve their ability to prevent hate-based threats and bullying and increase access to federal prevention resources for organizations and local communities.
“But of all the good that the law can do, we have to change our hearts. We have to change the hearts of the American people,“ President Biden said while signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in 2021. “Hate can — I mean this from the bottom of my heart — hate can be given no safe harbor in America. I mean it: no safe harbor.”
But in places like LA County, hate crimes have been increasing instead of decreasing. The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations released its annual LA County Hate Crime Report last month on December 7. The report shows hate crimes in LA County grew 23% from 641 in 2020 to 786 in 2021. This is the highest number recorded since 2002.
The report revealed that Latinos are the second-largest group of hate crime victims. After rising 58% in 2020, reported anti-Latino/crimes in Los Angeles County climbed another 10% in 2021, from 106 to 117. They comprised 25% of racial crimes, similar to previous years.
HATE CRIMES INVOLVING LATINOS
On September 21, 2022, the Westminster Police Department, which is located about 40 minutes from Downtown, LA, responded to an assault investigation.
The investigation revealed a Latino victim was seated in his vehicle when he was approached and told derogatory, anti-Latino slurs by a man who also threw a cup of gasoline at him and attempted to ignite the gasoline with a lighter.
The Latino man drove off, according to the report, preventing a fire and moments later the suspect was detained by police officers. The suspect was identified as Danh Nguyen. Nguyen was booked into the Orange County Jail for attempted murder, attempted arson, and civil rights violations. The Orange County Jail told CALÓ NEWS Nguyen was charged and sentenced on January 6 and is now waiting to be transferred to a state prison. No further details were provided.
An incident like the one in Westminster was also listed in the LA County Hate Crime Report.
Another hate crime was reported on August 30, 2021, in East Hollywood. The report does not include specific names, but talks about a Latino male who was unloading groceries from his car when a white male approached him and started verbally harassing him. He told the victim, “Return to your own country! You can’t even speak English!” The suspect then spat on him. In response, “the victim shoved the suspect and picked up a tire jack to defend himself,” the report stated. The suspect armed himself with a wrench and struck the victim’s head before entering a car, where a second white male was seated in the passenger seat. Eventually, both suspects drove off.
For Marshall Wong, a Human Relations Commission coordinator and principal author of the agency’s annual Hate Crime Report, incidents like these reflect the fact that the Latino community continues to be one of the most targeted groups when it comes to hate crimes.
“For several years in a row now, Latinos were the most likely of any racial and ethnic groups to be victims of violent crimes,“ Wong told CALÓ NEWS.
He said that many police departments in major cities across the country have stated that there are declining numbers of Latinos reporting sexual assault and domestic violence.
“Many of the police chiefs who were interviewed did not believe there was an actual decline in these crimes, they thought that the atmosphere of intimidation and threats to report undocumented people frightened crime victims and let them believe that if they were to report crimes they might put themselves or members of their household at risk for being detected by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and possibly deported,” Wong said. “That atmosphere of intimidation causes an undercount in hate crimes.”
LATINOS AS PERPETRATORS
But although anti-Latino crimes are on the rise, Latinos are also perpetrators of hate crimes among other groups and within their own community. In 2021, 12% of Latino hate crimes were committed by other Latinos. Wong said that in Latino/a-on-Latino/crimes, many of the suspects made anti-immigrant slurs, sometimes in Spanish. “It was the biggest number of anti-hate slurs used since we started capturing data on anti-immigration slurs,” he said.
Wong also pointed out other important statistics regarding Latinos. Regarding sexual orientation hate crimes, Latinos made up 40% of the overall sexual orientation hate crime victims, making them the most targeted group in 2021. Approximately 57% of the suspects within these groups were other Latinos, followed by blacks (27%) and whites (16%). White victims of sexual orientation hate crimes were targeted most often by blacks (41%), followed by Latinos (30%). “This showed a dramatic decline in white suspects and an increase in both black and Latino suspects.”
Hate crimes between African Americans and Latinos are also a statistic that Wong and his team pay close attention to. In 2021, there were a total of 61 Latino-on-Black hate crimes, out of these 29% were gang-related and 71% were non-gang-related. But apart from popular belief, Latinos aren’t the biggest suspects when it comes to anti-Black hate crimes. In 2021, 51% of anti-black crimes were not committed by Latinos and instead by white suspects.
Latino-on-Black and Black-on-Latino hate crimes are not something new, according to Wong. “When I started working at the [Commision of Human Relations] agency in the early 2000s, there were these racially motivated roles in public high schools throughout LA, some of them involving hundreds of students,” Wong said. “Regardless of what had started it, in most places, there were African American and Latino students or Armenian and Latinos students, with this heavy tension, but the school almost immediately denied there was anything racially motivated about these incidents.
In 2021, Luis Noe-Bustamante, a research associate who studies race and ethnicity, Hispanic trends, and immigration at the Pew Research Center, looked at the ways Latino adults experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from other Latinos.
His published study, derived from a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2021, states that Latinos are as likely to experience discrimination or unfair treatment from non-Latinos as from fellow Latinos, regardless of skin color or their country of birth.
The survey concluded that 23% of Latino Spanish speakers said they had been criticized for speaking Spanish in public, and 20% of all Latinos said they had been called offensive names in the last 12 months. “Sometimes, Latinos themselves discriminate against other Latinos or make racially insensitive comments or jokes about other Latinos,” he said.
He also mentioned how things like skin color are linked to greater Latino-on-Latino discrimination. “About four-in-ten Latinos with darker skin 41% say they have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment by another Latino, while 25% with lighter skin color say the same.”
In terms of Latino crimes, Wong said that there are more out there that are often not reported nor counted. Wong also said that many hate crime suspects, although arrested, are often let go and police departments drop the case. This tends to happen when the victims are too afraid to come forward and press charges or testify in court. “If there is no cooperation from the victim and there are no other witnesses, then persecution cannot proceed,” Wong said.
Wong said that this is a very critical time for this country when it comes to hate crimes. “A lot more has to do on the front end in terms of prevention, which starts with public schools embracing multicultural education and talking about difficult issues of racism and intolerance,” he said.
If you have been a victim or witness of a hate crime and would like to report and receive referrals to support services, call 211 or visit the LA VS HATE website HERE.