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Friday, July 25, 2008

Latino-vs.-black violence drives hate crimes in L.A. County to 5-year high

41214406 The County Human Relations Commission reports a 28% increase last year, with assaults and vandalism the leading categories.

Hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose to their highest level in five years last year, led by attacks between Latinos and blacks, officials said Thursday.

The annual report by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission showed hate crimes rose by 28%, to 763, with vandalism and assault leading the way.

In what commission Executive Director Robin Toma called an alarming trend, hate crimes based on race, religion and sexual orientation all rose, increasing against nearly all groups -- including blacks, gays, Jews, Mexicans, whites and Asians -- even as crime in general declined.

The largest number of racial hate crimes involved Latino suspects against black victims, followed by black suspects against Latino victims. Latinos also made up the largest number of suspects in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Whites were the leading suspects in religion-based incidents. Overall, blacks made up nearly half the hate crime victims, totaling 310.

"What we're seeing is the democratization of hate crimes," said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. "We're not only seeing a diversification of victims but also increased diversification of offenders."

Police agencies report hate crimes to the county, but because departments vary on when they pursue hate-crime charges, variations in hate-crime numbers can stem from an actual increase in crimes or from changes in reporting. In this case, experts said they believed that hate crimes themselves, not just the reporting of them, are rising.

Levin said other areas of the country have reported similar increases, including a 30% increase in New York last year; a 10-year study published last fall found that hate crimes in New York began to increase two years ago after declining over several years. [Mark Godsey]

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