OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta on June 30 unveiled new guidance, reports, and resources to help the public and law enforcement better understand and address hate crimes in California.
At 1,330 bias events in 2020, overall hate crimes in the state are at their highest reported level in more than a decade. This significant increase in hate crime activity — impacting a wide range of Californians — was particularly pronounced for Asian Americans during periods in which harmful rhetoric from public figures sought to connect the Asian community with COVID-19.
Despite these reported increases, the California Department of Justice recognizes that hate crimes in the state are generally underreported and that the data presented may not adequately reflect the actual number of hate crimes that occurred in the state.
Recognizing the need for action at every level of government and society, Bonta is urging law enforcement and members of the public to take advantage of the wide array of information and resources being provided so that all Californians can be part of the fight to tackle hate at its roots.
“For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate,” said Bonta. “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. It’s going to take harnessing the resources at our disposal to ensure every community across the state feels safe and welcome. I urge law enforcement and all Californians to make use of the tools being provided today. Together, we can tackle hate in all its forms.”
“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,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “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.”
As part of the expansive effort to increase access to information and resources around hate crime in California, Bonta is issuing: (1) a special report documenting an alarming 107% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020; (2) the full 2020 hate crimes report; (3) a new information bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the state that provides a critical overview on laws and penalties related to hate crimes; (4) new guidance for prosecutors on best practices and resources for combating hate crimes at every level of enforcement; (5) updated brochures in 25 languages to help victims and members of the public directly secure assistance; and (6) new and updated dashboards on the OpenJustice data portal exploring hate crimes in general and by bias motivation.
Special Report on Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
The special report on anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic provides a broad overview of the historical context for anti-Asian sentiment in California and a direct analysis of some of the key data captured in the most recent statewide report on hate crime.
For instance, anti-Asian hate crime events increased by 107% from 43 in 2019 to 89 in 2020. The highest number of events were reported in March and April, during the height of pandemic-fueled, trumped-up rhetoric. This rhetoric was perpetuated at the highest levels of public office and built on a long history of harmful Asian stereotypes in the U.S. In fact, as early as the Gold Rush, Chinese residents, for example, were blamed for high unemployment, spreading disease, and “invading” the country.
The 2020 hate crimes report presents statistics on hate crime events, hate crime offenses, victims of hate crimes, and suspects of hate crimes. The report also provides statistics reported by district and elected city attorneys on the number of hate crime cases referred to prosecutors, the number of cases filed in court, and the disposition of those cases. The report does not include data on hate crime incidents. Some of the key findings in the latest report include:
Overall, hate crime events increased 31% from 1,015 in 2019 to 1,330 in 2020;
Anti-Black bias events were the most prevalent, increasing 87% from 243 in 2019 to 456 in 2020;
Anti-white bias events also increased from 39 in 2019 to 82 in 2020;
Hate crime events motivated by religion decreased 13.5%, with anti-Jewish events falling 18.4% from 141 in 2019 to 115 in 2020;
Hate crime events involving sexual orientation also fell 12% from 233 in 2019 to 205 in 2020; and
Of the 108 cases filed for prosecution with a disposition available for this report, 42.6% were hate crime convictions, 45.4% were other convictions, and 12% did not result in any conviction.
Law Enforcement Bulletin and Prosecutor Guidance
The new law enforcement bulletin and guidance for prosecutors both work to ensure state and local law enforcement officials across California have the necessary information and tools to continue to respond appropriately and swiftly to hate crime activity in the state. Together, the guidance and bulletin work to, among other things, help law enforcement:
Properly identify and investigate hate crimes;
Ensure fair and uniform application of hate crime laws;
Increase the success of prosecutions by ensuring more immediate and consistent contact with victims and affected communities; and
Identify alternative forms of sentencing or restorative justice approaches to hate crime prosecutions.
Broadly speaking, hate crimes are serious crimes that may result in imprisonment or jail time for offenders. However, hate crimes remain underreported, often as a result of apprehension regarding interaction with law enforcement. Building relationships with the local community, disseminating information, and harnessing appropriate resources so that every community across the state feels safe and welcome is crucial to prevent, increase reporting of, and prosecute hate crimes. Crimes motivated by hate are not just attacks on individual people — they are attacks on communities and the entire state.
Resources for Victims and Members of the Public
The updated brochures released today in 25 languages work to help victims and members of the public identify and report hate crimes, as well as secure direct assistance where appropriate. Under California law, a hate crime is defined as a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes also include criminal acts committed, in whole or in part, because of a person’s association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.
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. Examples of hate incidents include name-calling, insults, and distributing hate material in public places. If a hate incident starts to threaten a person or property, it may become a hate crime.
If you believe you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, notify local law enforcement and consider taking the following steps:
If you are in immediate danger, call 911;
If needed, seek medical attention;
Write down the exact words that were used and take note of any other relevant facts so that you don’t forget;
If safe to do so, save all evidence and take photos;
Get contact information for other victims and witnesses; and
Reach out to community organizations in your area that deal with hate crimes or incidents.
The updated hate crime brochures are available on the attorney general’s website in English, Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Simplified), Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Hmong, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog, Telugu, Thai, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. https://oag.ca.gov/hatecrimes
Members of the public can further explore the most recent hate crime data on OpenJustice (https://openjustice.doj.ca.gov/data). The portal also contains an updated general dashboard on hate crimes and a brand-new dashboard organized by bias motivation type.