Hate crimes against Asian Americans and other members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Los Angeles rose sharply in 2020, mirroring a national trend and causing concern among police and local advocacy organizations.
According to a report presented to the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday, there were 15 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city in 2020, compared with seven in 2019, marking a 114% increase.
There were also nine hate “incidents” — or bigoted encounters that don’t rise to the level of a crime — compared to seven in 2019, police said. Several anti-Asian hate crimes have occurred so far this year.
Both police and advocates said they believe many more incidents occur than are reported, and that they are working to better identify, track and record such encounters and conduct more outreach in local Asian communities to encourage reporting by victims.
They say the recent hate has been fueled in part by misguided notions of blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, in which early cases arose in China. They said such hatred has at times been spurred by national political figures like former President Trump, and it is up to local leaders to push back.
“Unfortunately we’re a year into this pandemic and we are starting to see again a rise in anti-Asian hate and some very violent attacks that have occurred in our community in the last month or two,” said Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles.
She cited among other incidents a Korean American U.S. military veteran recently being attacked in Koreatown. She also said she had spoken to a woman who was harassed at a bar, but told by police that they couldn’t do anything about it other than offer to walk her to her car.
She warned that many incidents are going unreported, in part because of language barriers in immigrant communities, and called on the LAPD to increase training for officers to know “how to identify when a crime rises to the level of a hate crime and report it accordingly so that the public gets a full report on the severity of the problem.”
“When victims are brave enough to come forward and share their experiences with the police, having the police say that nothing can be done discourages victims and their communities from relying on the police again,” she said. “This contributes to the underreporting problem.”
Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said victims are also discouraged from reporting such crimes when they perceive or see bias being espoused by officers.
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and cofounder of Stop AAPI Hate, said her group has tracked thousands of crimes and other incidents targeting members of Asian and Pacific Islander communities nationwide, and what is occurring in Los Angeles seems to mirror the broader trend.
Police and other service providers, including those whose job it is to ensure civil rights aren’t violated, must intervene to turn the tide, she said.
LAPD Asst. Chief Beatrice Girmala said the department has increased training on hate incidents in recent years, including input from an LGBTQ working group, and takes hate crimes seriously.
Girmala said the department would be hosting a forum to discuss issues specific to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities soon, and asked the community leaders to work with her to ensure that victims who contact the police have access to additional resources such as counseling.
“We do not stand for or tolerate any acts of violence, any behavior that seeks to promote or give a so-called safe haven to those who promote hate,” Girmala said.
Within the department, Girmala said Chief Michel Moore has made it clear that officers who exhibit their own biases will be dealt with severely.
“His highest priority is a zero tolerance for any type of behavior that is bias driven, that may even have the appearance of being bias driven in any manner, shape or form,” Girmala said.
In addition to anti-Asian crimes, hate crimes against other groups also increased last year. Anti-Hispanic hate crimes rose nearly 36%, to 57 incidents in 2020, and anti-Black hate crimes rose more than 5%, to 77, the LAPD’s report found.
Hate crimes against gay men jumped nearly 30%, to 70 crimes in 2020, and anti-transgender hate crimes rose about 26%, to 29 incidents last year. Hate crimes against the Jewish community declined.
Members of the Police Commission said they stand against hate, and will continue to monitor the data and do what they can to ensure police are trained to identify such incidents when they occur, and respond to them appropriately.
“It will not be tolerated,” said Commissioner William Briggs, of hate-fueled crime in L.A. “We need to take positive steps as a community and as a police force to help stem this tide of hatred.”