County officials are releasing a report today that shows a 15% jump in hate crimes in 2011. The spike follows three straight years of decline in hate crimes in Los Angeles. Even so, the 489 incidents last year was the second-lowest number in 20 years.
The commission that issued the report found that 49% of the hate crimes were motivated by race. Among them, a significant majority of the attacks on African-Americans were committed by Latino suspects (65%). Sexual orientation accounted for 25% of crimes, and religion 24%.
This doesn’t just mean violent crime: in California, hate speech is considered a crime when there’s a specific threat of violence against a person or group of people based on their race, sexual orientation or gender, among other protected classes; graffiti targeted towards those classes is also considered a crime. But are these valid measures?
Has the designation of “hate crime” become overused? Is it right to punish two crimes with equal effects differently on the basis of the perpetrator’s “intent?” Should some of these acts, however offensive, be punished as typical crimes? What accounts for the rise in numbers? Are there specific groups or people targeted in L.A. County?
Robin S. Toma, executive director, Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission
James. B. Jacobs, professor of criminal law, New York University School of Law