Hate crimes rose in Orange County after Trump’s election, Commission says

The Orange County Register, Feb 16, 2017

By TONY SAAVEDRA / STAFF WRITER

Orange County hate crimes are outpacing recent years since the November presidential election, sparked by the political rhetoric targeting undocumented immigrants and Muslims, says the county group that promotes human relations.

According to the Orange County Human Relations Commission, 14 hate crimes and 44 non-crime incidents have been reported since President Donald Trump won the election, more than during the same period in recent years.

California state law describes hate crimes as any crime fueled by bias, hatred, or prejudice based on the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

Among the reports: Assailants pulled scarves from the heads of Muslim women; attackers painted swastikas, anti-gay remarks and racial slurs on bridges, churches and community walls; in December, five boys from Laguna Beach High School heaved a watermelon at the home of a couple with a black son and chanted his name during the assault.

And a Latino gardener was recently harassed by a client’s neighbor and told to “go home.”

“With the rhetoric used throughout the presidential campaign, it’s opened the door for these types of actions,” said Norma Lopez, director of the commission. She said the heated campaigning encouraged “people with a sense of entitlement to take whatever they were feeling and act on it.”

The Orange County numbers come on the heels of a Southern Poverty Law Center report that hate groups have grown nationally by 3 percent since 2015. Much of the venom has focused on Muslims, who say they have been unfairly targeted by Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Lopez said there is a lot of tension on both sides and the key is to keep the factions from being pitted against each other.

Ojaala Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles, blamed much of the problem on Trump.

“We attribute it to the fact that people like Trump … have created a safe haven for bigots,” Ahmad said. “Because someone in a higher office has spoken about these prejudices, it’s emboldened bigots to act upon their prejudices.”

Ahmad said CAIR offices have been inundated with reports of Muslims being told in letters, by telephone and in person, “You don’t belong here,” “You are the children of Satan” and “You are vile and vulgar.”

Reports of hate crimes and incidents to CAIR-LA have grown threefold in recent weeks, from an average of five per month, Ahmad said.

David Whitley, an Irvine resident and volunteer for former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, said the commission and others were overstating the problem.

“If somebody is called names, to me, it’s a sticks and stones,” Whitley said. “This is just hypersensitivity to me.”

He added: “I don’t think an individual, because Trump is elected, could act on it in some way or be emboldened.”

Whitley pointed to the crowds of sometimes violent anti-Trump protesters who marched across his TV in recent weeks.

“If anybody should be labeled as haters and terrorists, it’s these people,” he said.

Sheriff’s officials in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties said they did not see an uptick in hate crimes.

However, the Orange County Human Relations Commission is so concerned, it created the #HATEFREEOC campaign in December to counter what they call the “spate of hate.” The campaign is focused on creating a community standard that discourages hate and bigotry and supports OC Human Relations’ mission of building understanding and eliminating prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.

Among the events sponsored by the campaign are a speech contest and an art contest for students.