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O.C. Reports of Anti-Arab Bias Up in '01

9/11: The increase pushed total complaints filed by people of Middle Eastern heritage to 69, compared to eight in 2000. It was the most since the Gulf War.

April 12, 2002|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County authorities recorded a surge in reports of harassment filed by people of Middle Eastern heritage in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a Human Relations Commission report released Thursday.

Sixty-nine people said they were the targets of some form of anti-Arab bigotry last year, compared to eight a year earlier. The cases ranged from a woman who said she received a harassing phone call, to a man who was severely beaten outside a bar.

Not since 1991, at the height of the Persian Gulf War, has the commission found such a large number of reported incidents against Muslims. Dramatic events can result in more hate crimes, and they can prompt more people to report such incidents.

Then, as now, people are riding "an emotional wave," sometimes letting their emotions drive their behavior, said Rusty Kennedy, the commission's executive director, adding that the number of incidents dropped off significantly after September.

There were 179 cases of alleged bigotry listed in the report on 2001, up from 122 in 2000, but not all were classified as "hate crimes" by prosecutors.

Twenty-eight cases were referred to the district attorney's office for prosecution. Charges were filed in eight of the incidents.

Other incidents went unreported but still rattled nerves.

Ramanand Jaa, a Fullerton engineer from India, said he was shopping at a market specializing in Middle Eastern food soon after Sept. 11 when a motorist yelled, "Go back home!"

Jaa, who did not report the incident, said, "I knew the feelings involved and I just went on my way." Indians and East Indians also reported being blamed for the terrorist attacks.

The number of reported hate incidents aimed at Latinos doubled from the previous year.

Kennedy said he suspected that Latinos may have been swept up in anti-Arab feelings by people who misidentified them as being from the Middle East.

One of the more severe incidents reported to the commission occurred when an East Indian family attending a birthday celebration Oct. 21 was attacked after they left an Anaheim karaoke club.

A group of youths taunted the family with racist remarks, then attacked them. Several family members suffered injuries, including a broken jaw and other broken bones, according to the commission report.

Prosecutor Mike Fell said the public doesn't often understand the evidence needed to file a hate-crimes charge.

If someone yells a racial epithet without threatening harm, the act is protected under the 1st Amendment and is not a crime, he said.

Prosecutors consider it a hate crime if the action interferes, by force or violence, with someone's constitutional rights, Fell said.

To address any unease, the commission has started a series of living-room dialogues in which residents of different cultures get together for evening talks.

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