The Voice of OC, Aug 4, 2016
By David Washburn
Hate-motivated incidents against Muslims in Orange County and throughout Southern California skyrocketed last year, with the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino driving the increase, according to organizations that track the incidents.
The number of hate incidents in Orange County jumped from 14 in 2014 to 43 in 2015, with 37 specifically targeting the Muslim community, states the OC Human Relations Commission’s 2015 Hate Crime Report, which was released Thursday. It is the largest such spike since the 9/11 terror attacks.
(Click here to read the Orange County Human Relations Commission report)
The findings in Orange County mirror what other human relations commissions throughout California are reporting, said Rusty Kennedy, the Orange County commission’s executive director.
“There was a clear statewide increase in the targeting of Muslims for hate and bigotry,” Kennedy said. “There is no doubt.”
The findings also come on the heels of a report released last week by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which showed 363 civil rights complaints (a 58 percent increase from 2014) from members of the county’s Muslim community and from people perceived to be Muslim, including: Arabs, other Middle Eastern people, South Asian Christians and Sikhs.
(Click here to read the CAIR report)
Across California, CAIR says it logged 1,556 complaints in 2015, a 37 percent increase from 2014. The true number is likely much higher, said Masih Fouladi, a legal advocate for CAIR.
“Members of the Muslim community don’t want the spotlight,” Fouladi said. “If they do report incidents they feel they will face even greater repercussions.”
Hate incidents include a range of actions — from distributing flyers with racist messages and sending threatening emails to displaying hate speech on placards during public events. The civil rights complaints came from victims of hate incidents as well those claiming to suffer from, among other things, unfair treatment by law enforcement, and employment and housing discrimination.
Among the Orange County hate incidents reported to the commission was an owner of an Islamic clothing store who arrived to work one morning to find a Quran riddled with bullet holes on the front doorstep. In another case a victim who had gone shopping at a local grocery store returned to her car to find a note that read: “F*** Allah Go back to Iran!!!!!” the commission’s report said.
Hate incidents should not be confused with hate crimes, which can include death threats, assaults, and vandalism, among other things. There were two hate crimes reported last year in the county that targeted Muslims, according to the report.
The vast majority of the hate incidents occurred in the weeks following the Dec. 2 shooting rampage carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik that killed 12 and seriously injured 22 at a San Bernardino County health department Christmas party. Farook and Malik, who were killed by police following the attack, had become radicalized and Malik had pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook.
Less than three weeks before the San Bernardino massacre, 130 people were killed during an ISIS-coordinated attack in Paris.
“Caught up in the Islamophobic hysteria following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, and given apparent permission by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of political figures across the country, many carrying fear of and animosity toward Muslims allowed their hate to surface in 2015,” read the CAIR report, referring, among other things, to Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s calls for surveillance of mosques in the U.S.
Leaders of CAIR and Southern California human relations commissions said the anti-Muslim sentiment that drove up the number of incidents has dissipated in the months since the attacks and, barring another attack in the region, they don’t expect similar numbers this year.
“I think what we saw regarding the hate incidents was very episodic,” Kennedy said. “But it does show an underlying volatility there in the case of something like a terrorist attack.”
Responsibilities of Political Leaders
There is agreement among human rights advocates and some elected officials that it’s important for the county’s local political leadership to make more of an effort to publicly stand with the Muslim community in the aftermath of terror attacks.
“Law enforcement and political leaders have learned a lot and that has contributed to a reduction of incidents (in recent years),” said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. “[But] unfortunately because the incidents are still occurring, more work needs to be done.”
Toma, who said Los Angeles County also saw a spike in hate crimes following the San Bernardino attacks, stressed the importance of law enforcement and elected officials “being quick to [hold] a press conference to show that you’re standing with the community in a big way…and to show would-be perpetrators that these people are protected.”
He congratulated members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for passing a resolution last year welcoming Syrian refugees, and then in January for speaking out against Islamophobia from the public dais.
While the Orange County Board of Supervisors publicly acknowledged the victims of the San Bernardino attack, and addressed concerns relating to the safety of county employees, there is no evidence that supervisors spoke out in solidarity with the Muslim community in the same way as their counterparts in Los Angeles.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson, whose district includes Anaheim’s large Arab-American community, was the only one of the five supervisors to return a reporter’s calls regarding the issue. He said there’s a fine line between politicians expressing public support for a victimized group and grandstanding in front of the cameras.
“I personally see a lot of politicians who mug for the camera after such events…[who are essentially saying] ‘I’m the more caring guy because I stood on the stage for the photo ops,'” said Nelson, who made a point to say he wasn’t criticizing any one politician or public body in particular.
“We’ve been regular supporters of the community groups,” Nelson added, but he could not recall specific efforts by supervisors during an interview Wednesday.
Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen, who successfully pushed an anti-hate resolution through his city council, said the spike in incidents shows that local political leaders need to do more.
“We need elected officials to reflect the diversity of our communities and engage with them,” Nguyen said. “It shouldn’t be the expectation that the advocacy groups are the only ones who speak out — it’s all of our responsibility to speak out against hate.”
Crimes Up Against LGBT People, Down for African Americans
Overall, there were 44 hate crimes reported to the Human Relations Commission last year, which is a 10-percent jump from 2014. However, despite last year’s bump, the number of reported crimes is half what it was 10 years ago, Kennedy said.
“Altogether it is a good indicator of the status of human relations in OC,” Kennedy said.
The best news was that hate crimes against African Americans dropped to the lowest level in county history. From 2011 to 2015, the number dropped from 23 to seven in 2015, Kennedy said.
Meanwhile, crimes against members of the LGBT community went from eight in 2014 to 11 in 2015. Kennedy said the primary driver of the increase in people reporting these crimes was the commission’s efforts to reach out to the transgender community.
“A few years ago we didn’t have a single report from a transgender individual,” Kennedy said. “But last year we went out and met with members of the transgender community, and ended up getting four reports from transgender individuals, which represented the entire increase in the LGBT community.”
Please contact David Washburn directly at [email protected].