March 16, 2013


For Nina Boyd and her family, racism isn’t an in-your-face kind of thing. Not like in the mid-’70s, when she first moved to Orange County and renting an apartment was a daunting experience. As soon as landlords found out she was African American, apartments were no longer available.

Today, it’s more subtle. Eggs on her house in Aliso Viejo. Young people randomly questioned by police at a local park. Her son getting pulled over for no apparent reason.

“It’s uncomfortable,” Boyd, an associate superintendent for the Orange County Department of Education, said Friday.

Boyd was one of several community members Thursday night who addressed the Orange County Human Relations Commission. The group presented a draft report revealing that African Americans in Orange County experience discrimination or harassment in their communities, schools and workplaces — and especially from police.

Last year, the OC Human Relations Commission undertook a series of “listening sessions” to invite people across the county to share their experiences after a family in Yorba Linda reported they were subjected to rocks thrown through their windows in the middle of the night, slashed tires, racial epithets yelled at their younger son and acid pellets shot into their garage door. Their first-grader was told by other kids he could not play with them because he was black.

The family – both parents are in law enforcement – moved.

The Yorba Linda case spurred the commission to action. Some 300 residents attended three different sessions and shared their stories: tales of police harassment and profiling, threats to kids at schools, discrimination in employment and housing.

Nearly 30 percent of 144 participants reported being racially profiled by police in Orange County, according to the report, which is based on first-hand accounts.

“It’s not that this happens to everybody every day. Things have improved,” said Rusty Kennedy, executive director of the 42-year-old commission. “But it happens all too often. And they are more subtle things.”

The commission plans to widely distribute the information gathered, provide outreach in schools and churches, educate people on how to report hate crimes, and increase interaction and training with police.

African Americans, who represent 2 percent of the county’s population, are the most frequently targeted victims of hate crime despite their small numbers, according to the draft report. There is no geographical breakdown showing prevalence of discrimination in any one city more than another.

Yorba Linda, Councilman Mark Schwing, a 17-year councilman and four-time mayor, said in an interview Friday that attention on Yorba Linda did not tarnish the reputation of the city, where the town’s motto is “the land of gracious living.”

Schwing said the case was never labeled as a hate crime by Brea police, which oversees his city.

“I won’t say there’s no racism. But I don’t think it’s as blatant as Mr. Kennedy says,” Schwing said. “I would be more prone to say that Mr. Kennedy’s commission brings problems to justify its existence.”

Like the family in Yorba Linda, Terri Boatman left her home in Rossmoor last January after several incidents. The most serious was last December, when Boatman and her teenage daughter found “acid bombs” outside the home they had been renting for more than a year. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department said it was a teen prank, not a hate crime. But Boatman didn’t feel safe there again.

“Your sense of safety and security is gone,” said Boatman, a human resources professional.

While there may be a perception that people are quick to publicize such experiences, the opposite is true, said Christopher Mears, an Irvine attorney who represents civil rights claims. Instead, there is silence.

People don’t know who to complain to, and if they do complain, who will do something about it, some community members asked.

“Trust us. Something is being done,” said Commissioner Doug Wooley, who urged some 30 community members attending Thursday night’s meeting to report incidents of discrimination. “Sometimes being silent hurts as much as speaking out.”

Findings of discrimination

Some of the discrimination against African Americans is blatant, but much of it is subtle, according to a draft report by the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Here are some examples from the report:

•A high school girl said a group of Anglo students told her that during Halloween they planned to dress as KKK and “lynch the Negroes.”

•A man gets mistaken for a valet by a fellow patron at a restaurant.

•A woman is purposefully ignored by a worker passing out perfume samples at a department store.

•Numerous residents complained they were stopped by police for no legitimate reason.

•One of the county’s largest companies raised a Confederate flag and, although it was taken down after a complaint, the CEO was “shocked” at the negative reaction.

To file a complaint or concern: send to James Armendaris, the commission’s senior human relations specialist, or 714-567-7470.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7829 or