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A report shows hate crimes rose 15 percent during 2011 in Los Angeles County, the first increase in three years.
On Feb. 5, 2011, a 6-foot pentagram with an expletive appeared in spray paint on a Mormon church in Long Beach. On May 15, 2011 in Altadena, a black man was walking down a street when a van full of Latino men pulled alongside him and yelled a racial insult. When he tried to run away, one man followed and stabbed him twice.
These are just two of 489 hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County in 2011, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. That uptick comes amid record lows for hate crimes in the area — and it's partially explained by the fact that several of the crimes were likely perpetrated by the same person, who sprayed swastikas in numerous places around town.
"That happens sometimes. It happened a few years ago, too," said Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"It's still a blip, it's still a significant number," she said. "But overall, the numbers are very similar to what they have been."
Specifically, African-Americans are still the most likely to be victims of racially based hate crimes (60 percent), homophobic crimes are still particularly violent (71 percent were of a violent nature) and hate crimes involving religion are still overwhelmingly targeted at the Jewish population (77 percent).
The most striking jumps were in crimes perpetrated by groups. According to the report, one out of every five hate crimes reported in L.A. County showed evidence of white supremacist ideology, primarily anti-black and anti-Jewish graffiti.
Hate crimes committed by gang members rose from 9 percent to 12 percent of all hate crimes reported. That means a third of reported hate crimes showed evidence of gang or white supremacist involvement.
"This is disturbing because there are potentially mission offenders who seek to terrorize entire communities," said Robin Toma, executive director of the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, which has been tracking hate crimes in the area for the past three decades.
Susskind said gang-related hate crimes are a fairly new phenomenon.
"Twenty years ago, it just wasn't a thing," she said. "It was more geography based, 'You crossed into our territory and now I'm going to shoot you.'" Over the last decade, however, Susskind said police have seen evidence of gangs that are racially based and deliberately target people of other races, whether gang members or not.
One such gang, in Azusa, drew the attention of federal prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reema El-Amamy worked on the case against the Azusa 13, in which 6 of the 51 defendants were charged with civil rights conspiracy connected to racially-motivated hate crimes against African-Americans.
"Azusa was known as the hate crime capital of Southern California for a long time," El-Amamy said. "There were fire bombings, people were being assaulted as they walked down the street, gang leaders were instructing people that they had to attack the black residents in Azusa."
The case was the second federal indictment in history to charge hate crimes against a gang and the first of its scale and depth. Several defendants have already been sentenced to years in prison after pleading guilty, with more sentencing scheduled in the coming months.
Susskind said the case shows that prosecutors and police are increasingly taking hate crimes seriously. What happens after such indictments is equally important, she said, meaning education and programming to prevent their recurrence are needed.
The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations released a report Wednesday which shows hate crimes increased 15 percent in L.A. County during 2011.
While hate crimes are up, the trend for the past three years has been downward and the numbers are still among the lowest in decades, the report shows.
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 commission said the number of hate crimes jumped from 427 to 489.
Executive Director Robin Toma said all major categories increased.
He said the trend is worrying but notes the total number is still the second lowest in 22 years.
African-Americans were the target of 60 percent of incidents, with sexual orientation motivating 25 percent. Religion-driven crimes comprised 18 percent.
White supremacist ideology edged up 3 percentage points to 21 percent of all such incidents, while 12 percent of hate crimes were committed by gang members.
One of most publicized hate crimes last year was an anti-gay beating on Halloween in Long Beach. It was one of a series of hate crimes in Long Beach during 2011.
Read the complete report below: