By Alexander Ramirez and Allison Hodge
OAKLAND, CA – In response to the recent increase of hate crimes in California, CA Attorney General Rob Bonta released a set of reports and new guidelines to help the public and law enforcement address hateful acts.
Just in 2020, there were 1,330 events of racial bias that occurred, and the California Department of Justice points out that these are just the reported cases.
Specifically, there was a noticeable increase in hate crimes towards Asian Americans since many people and politicians alike sought to create a connection between Asian people and the COVID-19 virus that continues to affect the world today.
These acts have become so common that Bonta believes it is time for action to be taken by the public and the government together to tackle the root of this issue.
Said Bonta, “For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate. All across the country we saw the news come in, and now with this latest data we have another piece of the puzzle to help fill in the gaps. The facts here are clear: There was a surge in anti-Asian violence correlated with the words of leaders who sought to divide us when we were at our most vulnerable.
“But one of our most powerful weapons against hate is knowledge. When we’re armed with the facts, we put ourselves in a position to be our own best advocates; we put ourselves in a position to be able to fight for what is right. Ultimately, it’s going to take building bridges to help make a difference,” he added.
Bonta was not the only governmental figure to think this way either. California Gov. Gavin Newson had this to say on the matter.
“We must stand against hate. My administration is taking aggressive, targeted action to support targeted Californians and prevent hate crimes, proposing an investment of $100 million to support survivors and another $200 million in community-based responses to violence.
“To our neighbors who have been exposed to these unspeakable acts, know that we have your back and will use the tools at our disposal to increase safety. We will work to promote diversity and inclusion, and ensure the safety of all Californians.”
Bonta seeks to provide information and resources to the public through six different method, including, a special report documenting the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, the 2020 hate crime report, an information bulletin to law enforcement throughout California that explains laws and penalties related to hate crimes, new guidance for prosecutors to combat hate crimes at every level of enforcement, brochures with 25 different languages to help victims and the public secure assistance, and new dashboards on the OpenJustice data portal that explore hate crimes in general and by bias motivation.
The report documenting the increase of anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic uses previous patterns of anti-Asian sentiment in California, like the 107 percent increase in hate crime events between 2019 and 2020.
Among the data is a report that shows the highest number of hate crimes reported occurred at the height of the pandemic in March and April. During this time, there were many perpetuations of harmful Asian stereotypes that date back to the Gold Rush in the United States.
The 2020 hate crime report details, “statistics on hate crime events, hate crime offenses, victims of hate crimes, and suspects of hate crimes.” This report focuses on the broader categories of hate crimes, including, but not limited to, anti-Black, anti-white, and religiously charged bias events.
The report also includes reports from California attorneys on hate crime events in the courts, like the number of cases currently filed and/or referred to prosecutors.
Chief among the findings of the 2020 hate crime report are the various increases and slight decreases in hate crime events across the board. Though hate crime overall increased by 31 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report is careful to note instances where hate crime decreased in frequency.
Anti-Black bias events, for example, increased 87 percent from 2019 to 2020 alone, while hate crimes motivated by religion fell by 13.5 percent.
The report does not include specific data on hate crimes, but does break down the different categories of such crimes.
The law enforcement bulletin and prosecutor guidance, in Bonta’s view, can work hand-in-hand to aid state and local law enforcement in responding to hate crime. The information bulletin identifies and clarifies California Penal Code Sections on hate crimes, while the guidance for prosecutors specifies victims’ rights, restorative justice, and civil law among many other useful resources.
Taken together, the bulletin and new guidance attempt to ensure law enforcement is responding appropriately to any hate crime event, free of prejudice.
This report also acknowledges that hate crimes are often extremely underreported, and thus emphasizes the need to strengthen community relations between law enforcement and civilians.
The California Department of Justice noted, “Crimes motivated by hate are not just attacks on individual people — they are attacks on our communities and the entire state.”
Bonta and the Department of Justice also made sure to include resources for victims of hate crimes and the public, like updated brochures to help report and identify hate crimes. These documents are now available in 25 languages, and clarify California law concerning any kind of hate crime.
The Department of Justice defines hate crimes, their characteristics, and what counts as a hate crime versus a “hate incident.”
The Department of Justice argues that “Hate crimes are distinct from hate incidents, which are actions or behaviors motivated by hate that are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.”
The brochures, in other words, are essential for the public to distinguish between actual crime and “incidents” that may develop into hate crimes if they threaten people or property.
In addition to these brochures, the OpenJustice data portal has been updated to include new dashboards to show hate crimes by bias motivation (i.e. race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), as well as an updated general dashboard on general hate crimes.