Local and state initiatives to fight hate and violence in Orange County are gaining traction and support from the public and leaders at both the state and county levels. Despite being a highly diverse community, Orange County reported a rise in both hate crimes and hate incidents in 2020.
Hate crimes are defined by the California Attorney General’s office as being criminal offenses, such as assault or vandalism, based on an individual’s perceived or actual race, nationality, gender identity, sexuality or disability.
Hate incidents are non-criminal acts motivated by hate, including the use of slurs and the posting or distribution of hate-related materials. Often, hate incidents are protected under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free speech.
The year 2020 saw a rise in both hate crimes and hate incidents. According to the annual hate crime report conducted by the Orange County Human Relations Commission, hate crimes rose by 35% in 2020 — the single largest spike in hate crimes the county has seen in over a decade. Hate incidents rose by 69%.
The commission also reported a staggering 1,800% increase in anti-Asian American hate incidents in the county from 2019 to 2020, which many attribute to scapegoating caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the Asian community in Orange County reported elder abuse, vandalism and hate speech, among other attacks.
“Some of the impacts with the anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents were influenced by xenophobic references to COVID-19 and China. That’s not an isolated instance with California alone, but across the United States,” Orange County Human Relations (OCHR) Hate Crime Prevention Coordinator Nhi Nguyen said in a Zoom interview with the New University. “When there are things being said at the national level, sometimes it has an effect across the nation as well — there is some form of correlation.”
Nguyen said that while xenophobic biases might currently receive more attention from the public than in years prior, they are not a new development.
“These incidents aren’t new. The pandemic may have escalated certain hate activities, but that doesn’t mean that this is new,” Nguyen said.
The annual Hate Crime report is a small portion of the work performed by OCHR. It is one of the primary organizations in Orange County mobilizing to fight discrimination and bias and find community solutions. The organization runs mediation training, youth education groups, equity training and community building services, among other activities. Additionally, OCHR has a direct hotline and hate crime reporting portal on their webpage.
The organization has faced both a lack of support from the county and a lack of funding in the past. However, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to expand the OCHR Commission’s contract and funding in response to the reported increase in hate during 2020, citing a need for the county to combat hate on a wider scale.
“Timing is essential. Time is of the essence to get things moving forward,” County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.
According to an OC bid for expansion of anti-hate efforts, the organization could add an app for reporting hate crimes to their resources, a new database for tracking hate crimes and a call center.
“We are getting a lot of support. In the next year or two, we’re going to see things shift,” Nguyen said.
The increase in support may create a newfound flexibility in addressing community issues for the commission.
“Whatever someone wants will look different from one person to the next. So, what we’re trying to do at this point in expanding our hate prevention work is to widen our network to make sure people get the kind of support they need, whether that’s contacting law enforcement, or relocating,” Nguyen said. “We want to figure out how we can make sure support is adequate for the people who are asking for it.”
Additional efforts have been made in the past year to combat hate in California. At the state level, Bonta created a new Racial Justice Bureau in May 2021. In partnership with the California Department of Justice (DOJ), the Bureau will consist of six new attorneys and a supervising deputy attorney general, who will assist the Civil Rights Enforcement section of the DOJ in tackling issues of racial and social justice. According to a press release, the Bureau will serve to “quickly and decisively prevent and respond to hate.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer also launched his own team to address the increase in hate incidents and hate crimes in the county. The unit primarily focuses on training law enforcement on proper hate crime investigation and working on community outreach.
The state believes that the true rate of hate crimes and incidents are far higher than current reports suggest since cases go unreported due to a mistrust of law enforcement and language barriers.
“Of course we acknowledge that there’s distrust [of law enforcement] in many communities for a variety of reasons. In terms of underreporting, that’s why our stakeholders are so important. We have members that are part of the LGBTQ Center OC, we have partners who work with Waymakers, we have people who are working directly with identity-specific communities,” Nguyen said in reference to the variety of organizations who are able to help handle instances of hate in the county.
Many have faith that the community will become more accepting as more initiatives are enacted.
“We cannot change who we are and no one should be targeted and victimized because of who they are, how they look or whom they love. The beauty of Orange County is found in its diversity. Hate will not be tolerated here,” Spitzer said.
Hate crimes and hate incidents can be reported at the OC Human Relation’s confidential hotline number, 714-480-6580, or at their online portal.
Elaina Martin is a City News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.