California hate crime up 31% in 2020, led by anti-Black bias


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Hate crime in California surged 31% in 2020, fueled mainly by a big jump in crimes targeting Black people during a year that saw the worst racial strife in decades, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the state’s attorney general.

Overall hate crimes increased from 1,015 to 1,330 last year, while the number of victims increased 23%, from 1,247 to 1,536. Black people account for 6.5% of the state’s population of nearly 40 million people but were victims in 30% of all hate crimes — 456 overall, up 87% from the previous year.

“What we see from these reports is what we have seen and felt all year — we are in the midst of a racial justice reckoning in this country. It’s multi-faceted and it cannot be solved overnight.” Attorney General Rob Bonta said.

California saw some of the largest protests following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. And it also saw a surge in attacks on people of Asian descent following the emergence of the coronavirus in China.

While the overall numbers of hate crimes targeting Asians was low — 89 — that was more than double the number in 2019. The most events during 2020 were reported in March and April, just as the statewide shutdown and other pandemic restrictions took hold.

“For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate as well,” Bonta said while speaking in Oakland’s Chinatown..

While the pandemic is easing, that fear still resides in the Asian American community, said Bonta, the state’s first Filipino American attorney general. He related that he feared even for his mother going alone into an urban area.

“There was a surge in anti-Asian violence correlated with the words of leaders who sought to divide us when we were at our most vulnerable,” Bonta, a Democrat, said in an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump.

He released a companion report that aims to put that violence into modern and historical context dating to Gold Rush days of the mid-19th century and a history of harmful Asian stereotypes in the United States.

California defines hate crimes as those targeting victims because of their race or ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender or a disability. The definitions have been expanded at various times in recent years. Each hate crime event can include more than one related offense against more than one victim by more than one offender.

Such crimes targeting Latinos increased from 110 in 2019 to 152 last year, while those against white people rose from 39 to 82.

While hate crimes based on race increased, those prompted by religion dropped 13.5%. Anti-Jewish events fell from 141 in 2019 to 115 in 2020 and anti-Islamic events decreased from 25 to 15.

Those involving sexual orientation fell from 233 to 205. However, those with a gender bias increased, led by a jump in anti-transgender events from 29 in 2019 to 54 last year.

Though Bonta said more than half of hate crimes are believed to go unreported, he said he has confidence in local investigators and prosecutors to address the problem.

He nonetheless distributed a new law enforcement bulletin and guidance for prosecutors intended to help them to help them identify and investigate hate crimes, increase immediate and consistent contact with victims their communities and promote alternative forms of sentencing and restorative justice approaches when dealing with hate crimes.

Carl Chan, president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, praised Bonta’s office for also releasing updated brochures in 25 languages advising victims how to report hate crimes and seek assistance.

Chan, who was attacked from behind and knocked to the ground in April, said the brochures will help spur more reporting of such incidents.

The Chinatown has seen a decrease in traffic amid anti-Asian rhetoric, said Oakland City Councilwoman Sheng Thao. “People are fearful of walking the street.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is seeking $300 million to address hate crimes, with one-third going to support victims and the remainder for community-based responses.

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