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Suspected Hate Crimes Rise 11% in County

Report: The Human Relations Commission attributes the surge to post-9/11 violence.


Suspected hate crimes increased by 11% in Los Angeles County last year, a surge fueled by post-Sept. 11 attacks on Middle Eastern immigrants and others believed to be of Middle Eastern descent, county officials announced Monday.

The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission recorded 1,031 alleged hate crimes in 2001--compared with 933 in 2000. The total is the highest recorded since the county began keeping statistics 21 years ago.

Of the suspected hate crimes, 188 were committed against individuals or groups because of a belief that they were Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent, according to the commission's report titled "Compounding the Tragedy: The Other Victims of September 11."

In 2000, there were 14 reported attacks on Middle Easterners.

The crimes last year ranged from a possible murder to graffiti motivated by anti-Muslim sentiments after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Robin Toma, executive director of the commission.

"By and large, Americans and the world stood together in support of the victims and against terrorism. But there was a dark side that also emerged," Toma said. "If the tragedy of the East Coast terrorist attacks were not enough, another tragedy began to unfold soon after. It was marked by Americans attacking other Americans."

A preliminary report by the commission in December noted about 92 suspected hate crimes in reaction to the terror attacks. But Toma said when final reports were collated from law enforcement and public agencies countywide, the number of incidents more than doubled. That resulted in the highest number of annual hate incidents in the commission's history, breaking the 1996 mark of 995 suspected hate crimes.

Some incidents the commission listed as hate crimes, however, were not deemed by the police agencies investigating them, including the sole slaying. Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt and a Coptic Christian, was shot to death on Sept. 15 in his San Gabriel store. His relatives contended his ethnicity was the motive, but sheriff's investigators say they have not developed any evidence thus far that it was anything more than a robbery turned fatal. Karas' family, however, has persuaded the FBI to investigate the murder as a possible hate crime, and the commission said it appeared to be ethnically motivated because of the timing and the fact that no money was taken from the shop.

The commission did not include the fatal shooting of Abdullah Nimer, 53, a Palestinian American and father of six, during an Oct. 3 carjacking while selling clothing door-to-door in South Los Angeles. Three suspected gang members have been charged in connection with Nimer's death. It was among the incidents the commission considered a hate crime in the preliminary report in December, but that finding was changed because of the circumstances of the crime.

More than four out of 10 incidents against those of Middle Eastern origin in 2001 were criminal threats. The Islamic Center of Claremont received several threatening phone calls, including one caller who said, "You bombed our country. We are going to bomb your place."

However, some incidents did involve violence. A woman in a La Mirada parking lot was called a terrorist by three men who tore off her head scarf, or hejab, and slapped, bit and kicked her, Toma said.

There were several incidents involving mistaken identity. Several Sikhs, who wear turbans but are not Muslim and are rarely from Middle East, were targeted, as were Latinos, a Native American and a Jewish American, Toma said.

In San Dimas, a Latino man was forced by a car with six men to pull over on the Foothill Freeway. They pulled the man out of his car and threatened him at gunpoint for being from the Middle East, only to hear him address them in Spanish. The assailants then left without striking the victim.

Race and ethnic origin, according to the report, remains the motivation in 46% of reported incidents. While the number of alleged hate crimes against African Americans, Latinos and Jews declined, anti-Asian hate crimes climbed by 40%, rising to 42 incidents from 30 in the previous year.

Suspected hate crimes based on sexual orientation also rose 9% from the previous year. The number of incidents against gay men decreased slightly, but the number of anti-lesbian crimes rose from 25 to 37. Six out of 10 hate crimes involving sexual orientation resulted in physical violence, officials said.

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