Spike in hate crimes reported in Orange County

IRVINE, Calif. — Hate crimes jumped 12% last year over 2017, part of a five-year trend of rising hate crimes, according to the OC Human Relations Commission’s annual report released Thursday.

There were 67 reported hate crimes in the county last year. “In the last five years, hate crimes have steadily been on the rise with the largest jump occurring between 2017 to 2018,” according to the report.

The commission noted a difference between the state Department of Justice’s 2018 hate crime report, which showed a 2.5% decrease. “We found that our data included hate crime reports from several educational institutions in the county, which were not reflected in the Attorney General’s report,” according to the commission’s report.

The most common way racism was expressed was through vandalism at 21%, followed by simple assaults at 13%, criminal threats and aggravated assaults at 3%.

The most significant hate-crime incident was the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old student Blaze Bernstein, whose body was found in a shallow grave in a Lake Forest park in January of last year. Samuel Lincoln Woodward is charged in the murder with a hate crime allegation.

Another notable incident involved anti-Semitic vandalism on an Irvine synagogue in November.

The most frequent hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or national origin at 42%, followed by 34% based on religious faith, and 16% for sexual orientation.

Last year, Jews were the most targeted for hate crimes at 13%. The report attributes it to being “part of a national trend that also shows an increase of hate crimes targeting people of the Jewish faith.”

The next most targeted group were Latinos and those of Middle Eastern ancestry, both at 6%.

Hate crimes against blacks dropped from four in 2017 to three last year. Hate crimes against LGBT victims increased from two in 2017 to 11 last year. Hate crimes against Latinos went up from three in 2017 to four in 2018. Hate crimes against Asians remained the same from three in 2017 to three last year.

The report also shows an “alarming rise” in hate incidents, which are racially motivated but don’t fit the legal definition for a crime. Last year, there were 165 hate incidents, “which is an alarming 37% increase from last year,” the report said. “In the last four years, hate incidents have spiked with the largest jump occurring from 2017 to 2018,” according to the report.

Some of the hate incidents included a Muslim woman wearing a hijab insulted with a middle-finger gesture and called a “baby killer and trash.” A bi-racial couple who questioned a white man why he failed to fix a patio door they paid him to repair was refused a return on their deposit and told, “You and your (n word) can (expletive) off, race traitor.”

A Christian church’s door was vandalized with “God hates (expletive for homosexuals).” The vandal also left fecal matter at the scene.

The parents of Bernstein, Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein, included an essay in the report, saying they have formed a memorial fund in their son’s name and continue their efforts to educate the community about the “dangers of allowing bigotry and antisemitism to ripen into normative behavior.”

The Bernsteins noted that they helped Newport Harbor High School officials when they were rocked with a scandal involving some of their students engaging in anti-Semitic behavior depicted in social media posts. The first “#BlazeitForward Club” — a tribute to their gay son — was established at the high school.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who took office this year, reported last year the office received 32 hate crime cases, resulting in charges for 25 of them. Four of the cases were rejected and three are pending. In all but one of 15 filed cases that included a hate crime, the office secured convictions or defendants continue to face charges.

The convicts received sentences last year ranging from probation to five years in prison.

Last year, the 32 cases referred to the District Attorney was an increase from 17 in 2017 and 12 in 2016, according to Spitzer’s report. “The sad reality is that, in recent years, hate crimes and incidents have increases in our county, targeting individuals or groups because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other aspect of their being,” said Rabbi Richard Steinberg, chairman of the OC Human Relations Commission, in the annual report.

“Temple walls continue to be defaced with racial slurs. People are being assaulted because they speak a different language or by the way they look,” Steinberg wrote. “The worst possible outcome became a reality this past year when a young man was murdered because of who he was. We cannot allow fear, hate, and bigotry to divide us. We must listen to each other, communicate respectfully, build bridges of understanding, and support each other through these traumatic events.”

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