First, the good news: Hate crimes committed in Los Angeles County dropped for the second year in a row, according to numbers for 2009 released Dec. 21 by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. The bad news: Hate crimes against Jews reported in Los Angeles County during the same period increased by a whopping 49 percent from the previous year.
The commission’s annual Hate Crime Report found that 88 percent of the 131 religiously motivated hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County in 2009 were directed against Jews. This trend is consistent with similar hate crime statistics collected across California and the United States, in which the number of reported hate crimes against Jews is far greater than the number of hate crimes reported against members of other religious groups.
But the 116 anti-Jewish crimes reported in Los Angeles County in 2009 — the largest number reported to the commission in a single year since 2000 — is so much higher than the 78 anti-Jewish crimes reported in 2008, it requires explanation.
“The statistic suggesting a significant growth is skewed slightly because some of these crimes were relatively minor graffiti, which appeared to be the work of serial vandals,” Amanda Susskind, Regional Director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said in a statement.
Vandalism is not always classified as a hate crime. “If someone writes the word ‘Jew’ on the freeway overpass on the I-5, that would be considered graffiti, but it would not be considered a hate crime,” Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations said. But if you have the word “Jew” written on buildings in largely Jewish neighborhoods like the Fairfax District, then it is classified as a hate crime, Toma said.
In the spring of 2009, just such a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti occurred in Los Angeles, and the rash of “Jew” and “Jew TMA” tags scrawled on walls, signs and other public spaces in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods was picked up by ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents released last July, which keeps track of hate crimes and noncriminal incidents that target Jews.
“Much of the rise was due to anti-Jewish vandalism,” Susskind said in the statement, referring to the ADL’s 2009 audit, which showed a 22 percent rise in anti-Jewish incidents across California — up from 226 in 2008 to 275 in 2009. “But it also included troubling incidents of physical assaults against Jewish individuals.”
When the ADL audit was released, it seemed to contradict the results of a third study of hate crime that is also done annually. As reported in The Jewish Journal and elsewhere, the 2009 Hate Crime in California report, released by the California State Department of Justice (DOJ) in July, showed that hate crimes against Jews had decreased 13 percent across the state, falling from 184 in 2008 to 160 in 2009.
The discrepancy between the California DOJ numbers and ADL statewide numbers was due to the DOJ’s counting “crimes” and the ADL’s counting “incidents.” The most recent numbers from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations splits the difference, making use of reports from community groups — including ADL — of incidents and counting those that could have been classified as crimes but were never reported to police or any other local law enforcement authority. Such incidents would not be included in the DOJ’s count of hate crimes.
The commission’s numbers may present a more accurate picture of hate crimes in Los Angeles, especially since the vast majority of hate crimes are believed to go unreported. “There are reasons why people don’t go to law enforcement,” Toma said. The Commission on Human Relations, which released its first report on hate crimes in 1980, also gets reports from many school districts in Los Angeles County. “School districts sometimes don’t report them to law enforcement,” Toma said. “They don’t want the negative attention that they had a hate crime on their campus.”
Because the commission uses data from ADL, it’s no surprise that the two organizations paint similar pictures of hate crimes against Jews in Los Angeles County. But, as it turns out, the DOJ data, which draws exclusively on reports from police, sheriffs’ departments and prosecutors, also showed a rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes in Los Angeles County in 2009 — a very small one, of 2.7 percent (75 in 2008, 77 in 2009).