After three years of steady decline, hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose 15% last year, due in part to an increase in white supremacist and street gang incidents, officials will report Wednesday.
The change is similar to a recent rise reported in Orange County but bucks a continuing decline statewide. The 489 hate crimes reported last year in Los Angeles County were still the second-lowest total in two decades — in 2001 the county saw a high of 1,031 — but county officials said they were still concerned about the increase.
"This is a reminder that we're in no way a post-racial society," said Robin S. Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. "When you have hundreds and hundreds of hate crimes, it's way too many."
A hate crime is defined by California law as an incident that shows bias, hatred or prejudice based on the victim's race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The rise in Orange County was 14% and the drop statewide was 4%.
Los Angeles County officials said they could not point to a single reason for the increase, although they noted that white supremacist ideology was evident in nearly a fifth of the incidents and that gang members were suspects in 12% of the crimes, which were both small increases over the year before.
Almost half the incidents were found to be motivated by racism, with African Americans being the most frequent target. Anti-black hate crimes rose by almost a quarter since 2010, while the number of crimes against Latinos fell by almost 35%, according to the report, which is released annually by the county.
The number of crimes targeting lesbians, gays or transgender people also rose.
The largest number of incidents was reported in the San Fernando Valley, followed by the downtown area, according to the report.
"There's very few places in the county that have not experienced hate crimes," Toma said. "Sometimes residents think that they're not in an area where it is an issue, but unfortunately, that's not the case."
Almost 1 in 3 of the crimes occurred at homes, and nearly half involved vandalism, although there were also assaults and other acts of violence, including:
¿ A Middle Eastern high school student in Simi Valley who was punched in the face several times by a Latino who said: "I hate Iraqis."
¿ A black man who was stabbed twice in the lower back while being attacked in Altadena by seven Latinos.
¿ An Asian man who was walking in West Hollywood when a Latino driver pulled over, called him a homophobic slur and punched him in the face before fleeing.