Reported incidents of hate crimes in Los Angeles County increased for the first time in four years, while such incidents in schools have more than doubled from last year, according to a report released Thursday.
The 26% spike in reported countywide hate crimes last year was fueled primarily by a nearly 50% jump in racially motivated offenses, especially toward immigrants and between African Americans and Latinos, according to an annual analysis by the county Commission on Human Relations.
The report tracked hate crimes reported to law enforcement or other agencies, but did not address which ones led to criminal charges or arrests.
Conflicts between blacks and Latinos erupted on the streets, in jails and at schools, with school-based hate crimes soaring by 111%. Many of these incidents on or near campus occurred in South Los Angeles, the report said.
The figure does not include 11 of 14 large student scuffles last year. The commission did not receive reports on those incidents because it was difficult to determine if they were racially motivated.
"All it takes is one incident," Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said.
The rise in hate crimes reported across the county bucks state and national downward trends, the commission found. The city of Los Angeles also measured a roughly 10% dip in hate crimes, said Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Yet the number of reported hate crimes recorded last year -- 633 -- is still the second-lowest number since 1990. The 2004 tally was 502 incidents. \o7
\f7Violent acts of prejudice are "a virus in the petri dish of our society," Paysinger said. "It remains a significant challenge. The first step in inoculating us from this disease is awareness."
Nearly two-thirds of incidents last year were racially motivated, with 15% caused by religious intolerance and 15% related to sexual orientation. Attacks related to sexual orientation dropped by about a quarter from last year.
Blacks were the most common victims of hate crimes in 2005, followed by Latinos; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; and Jews. Violence and vandalism were the most widespread offenses.
"The first step to solving this problem is identifying it," said Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "This is not a problem that's going away soon."
The commission's report highlighted simmering tensions between blacks and Latinos: the majority of suspects in anti-black crimes were Latino and vice versa, according to the organization's data. Hostilities sparked by heated debate regarding immigration could account in part for the increase in anti-Latino incidents, said Robin S. Toma, executive director of the commission.
The commission analyzed white supremacist crime for the first time and found 17% of hate crimes were perpetrated by such groups locally, compared with just 5% nationwide.
Commission members stressed that hate crimes still are widely underreported, and true statistics could be far greater than the numbers presented Thursday, especially in schools, jails and juvenile detention halls. Language barriers, distrust of law enforcement and fear of retaliation discourage people from reporting hate crimes, Toma said.
Toma also attributed gang-related hate crimes -- 11% of the racially motivated attacks from last year -- to a lack of opportunities for youth, struggling schools and scarce jobs. He said the bulk of these crimes occur in low socioeconomic groups.
"The lack of resources creates an environment of violence," said the Rev. Eric P. Lee, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.
The county commission defines hate crimes as offenses involving bias, hatred or prejudice based on a victim's "real or perceived" race, religion, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
Two-thirds of the data came from the Los Angeles Police Department and the county Sheriff's Department, with the rest provided by local police forces, school districts, community organizations and victims.
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Reported incidents of hate crimes in Los Angeles County increased for the first time in four years, due in large part to a 46% spike in racially motivated attacks.
Hate crimes by motivation, 2005
*--* Change % of from total 2004 Race/ethnicity/national origin 64% + 46% Religion 15% + 25% Sexual orientation 15% - 27% Other/unknown 6% + 95%
Source: Los Angeles County Commission of Human Relations