Paced by high-profile attacks on Jewish targets, close to 2,000 hate crimes were reported in California in 1999, a 12 percent jump over the previous year.
The shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills and arson attacks on three Sacramento synagogues received the most media attention, but the largest number of hate crime victims were African Americans.
In a breakdown on the causes of the reported 1,962 hate crimes, which affected 2,500 victims, 60 percent were based on race or ethnicity, 22 percent on sexual orientation, and 17 percent on religion.
Anti-Semitic incidents were classified under "religion" and represented by far the largest proportion of crimes in that category.
The findings tend to validate a study by the Anti-Defamation League, released in April, that showed a 20 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in 1999 compared to the previous year.
The current report was released July 27 by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who cautioned that the 12 percent increase in hate crimes in 1999 may just indicate a greater alertness by individuals and police in reporting such incidents.
A similar point was stressed by ADL regional director David Lehrer, who said that while the publicity from the two high-profile attacks on Jewish institutions may have prompted some copycat crimes, they perhaps encouraged others to report hate-motivated crimes.Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, saw the explosion of hate sites on the World Wide Web as a motivating factor in encouraging and empowering individual bigots.
When the Wiesenthal Center started tracking hate sites in April 1995, at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, there was only one, according to the center's researchers. That figure has now ballooned to more than 2,500 hate Web sites.
Cooper also noted that of the hate crimes based on race and ethnicity, more than half targeted Blacks. "These are personal, direct acts," he said. "It's not just a matter of graffiti anymore."
California state law defines a hate crime as "motivated by hatred based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability."