Church to Host First-Ever "Listening Session" on Hate Crimes in Orange County

African-American residents make up just 2 percent of the county's population, but last year they were the target of a third of all hate crimes there.

By Vikki Vargas
|  Friday, Dec 7, 2012  |  Updated 10:20 PM PDT
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African-Americans are the most targeted demographic in Orange County when it comes to hate crimes. The most recent attack involved acid bottle bombs left in front of a home. On Saturday, hundreds are expected to gather for the first-ever listening session in the hope that sharing their stories will help start a constructive dialogue. Vikki Vargas reports from Irvine for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2012.

Vikki Vargas

African-Americans are the most targeted demographic in Orange County when it comes to hate crimes. The most recent attack involved acid bottle bombs left in front of a home. On Saturday, hundreds are expected to gather for the first-ever listening session in the hope that sharing their stories will help start a constructive dialogue. Vikki Vargas reports from Irvine for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2012.

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When Rev. Mark Whitlock asked his congregation how many of them have been victims of racism, he was shocked at the response.

“Eighty-five to 90 percent raised their hands,” said Whitlock, who leads the largest African-American church in Orange County.

In the wake of an acid-bomb attack on an African-American family last week, leaders at Christ Our Redeemer Church decided it's time to sit down and initiate a constructive dialogue. 

On Saturday, hundreds are expected to gather at the church for a first-ever listening session about hate crimes.

“Any time a story is told it changes things and we must tell our stories,” Whitlock said.

Organizers say they will tell the story of another African-American family who lived in Yorba Linda, but moved away after rocks were thrown through their windows and the tires on their cars were slashed.

Last Sunday, someone left four acid bottle bombs on the lawn of the family. One went off. It was too soon to establish whether these acts were motivated by hate.

“When you’re talking about motive, it’s not always clear,” said Rusty Kennedy, from the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

African Americans make up two percent of the Orange County population but continue to be the most targeted group, according to officials. Last year, about a third of the hate crimes in Orange County were committed against African Americans, Kennedy said.

Event organizers said one reason the numbers are up is because the crimes are being reported. They hope this weekend’s session will teach people what they have in common rather than what makes them different.

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