Hate crimes driven by homophobia and racism resulted in a 33% surge in reported incidents in California last year, following a similar spike in hate-driven attacks the year prior and confirming what officials have been hearing anecdotally since the pandemic began, the state's attorney general said Tuesday.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said that crimes against Black people were again the most prevalent in 2021, climbing 13% from 2020 to 513 reported incidents. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias increased nearly 50% to 303 incidents while crimes against Asian Americans were up 178% to 247 incidents.
"One hard truth in our state, just as we see across the nation, is that the epidemic of hate we saw spurred on during the pandemic remains a clear and present threat," said Bonta, a Democrat, at a news conference. “Each of these incidents represents an attack on a person, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow Californian.”
The 1,763 hate crimes reported in 2021 was the sixth highest tally since the department began collecting and reporting data statewide in 1995. It is also the highest since 2001, when 2,261 hate crimes fueled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks were reported in California.
Last year's annual report showed a similarly high increase — 31% — with anti-Black bias making up the bulk of incidents in a state where African Americans are 6% of the population. The 2020 report also showed a startling increase in bias crimes against Asian Americans following the emergence of the coronavirus in China.
Video of assaults on Asian Americans, particularly seniors, went viral last year with San Francisco police in January reporting an astonishing 567% increase in reported crimes from the previous year. The initial count showed 60 victims in 2021, up from nine in 2020. Half of last year’s victims were allegedly targeted by one man.
Still, not all criminal attacks carry a hate crime charge since prosecutors need to prove the suspect was motivated by bias. In San Francisco, for example, the 2021 death of an 84-year-old Thai grandfather is headed to trial although the district attorney’s office has not filed hate crime charges in that case.
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Officials say reported hate crime statistics may be far lower than actual numbers, but add they've taken steps to encourage reporting by victims. Nationally, hate crimes rose to the highest level in more than a decade in 2019, according to an FBI report.
Community leaders who joined Bonta at Tuesday's press conference urged people to report crimes and to seek resources such as mental health services. Cirian Villavicencio, commissioner with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs, said hateful attacks against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community are not new.
But the sheer rise in attacks during the pandemic was alarming, he said.
“Our elders were being physically attacked, women and young people were being verbally insulted, AAPI students were being harassed and bullied at school and AAPI-owned small businesses were targeted and discriminated against just because they were AAPI,” Villavicencio said.
In May, a white gunman killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. A steep rise in anti-Asian bias since 2020 included the March 2021 killing of eight people at Atlanta-area massage businesses, including six women of Asian descent.
A hate crime is motivated by the victim's gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability. Hate incidents such as name calling are not necessarily criminal. The California Department of Justice has collected and reported statewide data on hate crimes since 1995.
Crimes showing bias against Latinos increased 30% to 197 incidents in 2021 while anti-Jewish bias events increased 32% to 152 in 2021, the most in the religious bias category.
Bonta announced the new position of a statewide hate crime coordinator within the California Department of Justice to assist state and local law enforcement efforts to battle hate crimes.
The report also showed that district attorneys and elected city attorneys filed 30% more cases in 2021 involving hate crime charges.