Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 76% in Los Angeles County last year, mirroring a disturbing trend in many other jurisdictions as physical and verbal attacks on Asian Americans rose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the 44 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in L.A. County in 2020, more than three-quarters involved physical violence — a marked increase from 58% in 2018, the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations said in a report released Wednesday.
In 2019, 25 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported.
The data in the report were compiled from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and more than 40 city police departments, including Los Angeles’, as well as several school police agencies and community organizations.
The number of reported hate crimes is generally seen as unreliable because victims can be reluctant to report them.
However, sudden upticks are significant, and officials should work to understand the root causes, experts say.
Many point to then-President Trump’s racially charged rhetoric, highlighting the coronavirus’ Chinese origins, as a trigger for some anti-Asian attacks.
“It did not help that the former president repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as ‘chinavirus’ and ‘kung-flu,’” Human Relations Commission President Guadalupe Montaño said in a statement.
In 10 of the 44 L.A. County anti-Asian crimes, the suspect explicitly blamed the victims for COVID-19, the report said.
In one hate crime cited in the report, a Chinese man was waiting at a bus stop when a white woman started yelling, “Go back where you came from, you f—ing Chinese!” before crossing the street and punching the man three times in the face.
In another instance, a Japanese man was talking on his cellphone in a drugstore parking lot when a Latino man holding a large knife asked whether he was Asian. The suspect ordered the man to remove his sunglasses to reveal his eyes before trying to stab him, according to the report. The suspect was arrested.
The state attorney general found that anti-Asian hate crimes more than doubled in California last year, with assault and intimidation the most common offenses.
After a series of violent attacks against Asian American senior citizens across the country, volunteers formed foot patrols in Oakland Chinatown and other Asian neighborhoods.
A study of 16 jurisdictions across the country found a 164% increase in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period last year.
New York saw the greatest increase, at 223%, followed by 140% in San Francisco, 80% in Los Angeles and 60% in Boston, according to the study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
Reports by Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks anti-Asian attacks, have shown the breadth of anti-Asian racism nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some victims were elderly, others children. Some were coughed on or spat on, some were slapped or hit, some were refused service at businesses, still others were stung by racist words or by people declining to interact with them.
Stop AAPI Hate tracks not only hate crimes but also hate incidents, which do not rise to the level of a crime and typically involve name-calling or insults.
In L.A. County, the number of Asian American female hate crime victims tripled from five the previous year to 15, Wednesday’s report said.
In 2019, no victims of Asian hate crimes were older than 40. In 2020, half were older than 40, including two senior citizens.
In cases in which a perpetrator was identified, 42% were white, 36% Latino and 19% Black.
Forty-five percent of the anti-Asian hate crimes took place in the city of Los Angeles, with a significant cluster in the South Bay.
The county Human Relations Commission collects reports of possible hate incidents through the 211 telephone number and its website. It has received about 1,400 reports since launching in June 2020.
Phyllis Gerstenfeld, who chairs the criminal justice department at Cal State Stanislaus, said there are no proven strategies for combating hate crimes.
Strengthening ties between law enforcement and communities does increase the likelihood that victims will report hate crimes, she said.
“We should be constantly evaluating what we’re doing and not feeling as if passing a particular ordinance or throwing up a few signs is going to fix the problem,” Gerstenfeld said.