Los Angeles leaders condemned "un-American" crimes motivated by someone's race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation in a Wednesday press conference.
The gathering, hosted by City Attorney Mike Feuer, brought together LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Assistant Sheriff Anthony Labara, all of whom echoed Feuer's zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes.
“Acts of hate against any individual because of their race or their ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation or their gender or disability — those acts are un-American," Feuer said. "Yet hate crimes are up in our nation."
"I was a hate crimes prosecutor," Lacey said. "And I am hopeful that the spike in hate crimes in other parts of the country is not replicated here."
“The fear of other is very strong in humanity,” Beck said. "When we find ourselves being torn apart, hate crimes become more prevalent. This cannot stand."
Feuer opened the conference by citing statistics on the increase of hate crimes across the board — particularly against Muslims. Crimes motivated by gender, religion, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation have increased by 19 percent in L.A. County since last year. The Southern Poverty Law Center also released a report on more than 700 hate incidents nationwide following the presidential election.
"The point of this conference is to get across the idea that hate crimes cannot be tolerated," Feuer said. "No one should feel reluctant or afraid to report a hate crime."
The conference comes one day after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to speed up the process of prosecuting hate crimes. It's meant to reassure victims and witnesses that their immigration status won't be questioned when they report a hate incident.
Feuer tweeted before the conference, reassuring residents they would not be deported if and when they report a hate crime.
Officials did not announce any new efforts to stop or prevent future incidents during the conference, but detailed the resources they already had in place. Lacey said she felt fortunate to live and work in California, where there are resources such as special task forces and hate-crime prosecuting attorneys.
California adopted its first hate crime law in the 1980s. After it passed, the number of hate crimes went down. But in recent years, those stats have ticked back up. If convicted, criminals can receive between one and three years in prison.
Feuer concluded the conference by recalling a troubling event that occurred after the election. He saw a news segment about a high school student who had her hijab torn off in the hallway. The following week, he said he arranged an assembly with students from the girl's school to discuss the impact hate crimes had on their community.
"If someone ripped off my hijab what would happen?," a girl asked him at the assembly.
"What should happen?," Fueur asked the students.
The answers were varied, he said. Some said they should focus on caring for the victim. Others said the student responsible for ripping off the hijab should be suspended. Others didn't know what to do, they were still in shock from the violent act.
"It was such an instructive lesson for all of us," Fuerer said of the assembly. "If our community would act that way, we’d all be better off.”
Watch a full video of the press conference here:
Victims and witnesses of hate crimes are encouraged to call the "ASKLAPD" toll free number 877-275-5273.