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New California Crime Data Shows an 'Epidemic of Hate,' Says California Attorney General Bonta

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California Attorney General Rob Bonta wears a blue suit and blue tie and stands behind a podium at a press concerence.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a press conference in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. On June 28, 2022, Bonta released the "2021 Hate Crime in California" report. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Calling it an "epidemic of hate," Attorney General Rob Bonta on Tuesday released the 2021 Hate Crime in California report, showing hate crimes spiking by 33% last year.

"In fact, a level we haven't seen in California since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," said Bonta at a press conference in Sacramento.

The total number of bias-based events in California was 1,763 in 2021, with crimes targeting Black people being most prevalent, increasing 12.5% from 456 in 2020 to 513 in 2021.

Anti-Asian hate crimes rose a staggering 177% after a 107% increase the year before, "and these statistics hit very close to home for me personally," said Bonta, the first Filipino American to be California's attorney general.

Reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation spiked 48%, while anti-Latino bias events rose nearly 30% in 2021. Among hate crime events based on religion, anti-Jewish bias increased 32%.

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Although the number of cases filed for prosecution by local prosecutors increased by 30%, Bonta noted that hate crimes are often underreported, and his office cautioned against comparing data among California counties due to differences in reporting and charging decisions.

"Each of these incidents represents an attack on a person, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow Californian," said Bonta. "And worse, we know our statistics likely are not exhaustive" since some victims decline to come forward.

The attorney general also made clear what he thinks is responsible for the skyrocketing incidents of hatred.

"The pandemic gave way to an epidemic of hate. We saw the bigoted words of our former president turn a trickle of hate into a flood that remains with us," Bonta noted.

Bonta also announced the creation of a statewide hate crime coordinator position to be the point person between the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement officials to oversee and assist with the reporting and prosecution of hate crimes.

Bonta was joined by several representatives of anti-hate groups, including Jimmie Jackson, director of the North Area branch of the NAACP, which includes Hawaii and parts of Northern California.

"We are all tired of seeing our brothers and sisters of color being targets of hatred, discrimination and racism," Jackson said. "And we are all in this fight to stay. We're all in this fight together. And I hope everybody will join us in this effort."

Cirian Villavicencio with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs noted that anti-Asian hate crimes have been targeted at his community for decades. "Our communities have been historically marginalized and stereotyped as perpetual foreigners," he said.

"It will take all of us, all of us here working together in partnership, to bring justice, healing and peace to all of our communities," he added.

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.

In San Francisco, 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.

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 state's department of justice has collected and reported statewide data on hate crimes since 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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