California hate crimes against Jews in the year 2000 were 42.2 percent higher than in 1996, according to a report released last week by the state's attorney general, Bill Lockyer.
However, analyses by local Jewish organizations indicated that the stark figure is not as ominous as it sounds. Deeper digging into the statistics shows that reported anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2000 were actually lower than in the preceding year, with the emphasis on "reported."
Significantly, Lockyer released his annual summary on the second anniversary of the shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, which inflicted serious injuries on three children, a teenager and an adult. Buford Furrow, who also killed a Filipino American mail carrier the same day, is serving a life sentence as a convicted murderer.
The Jewish center attack, coupled with the torching of three Sacramento-area synagogues during the 1999 "Summer of Hate" apparently created a heightened awareness of hate crimes among Jews, minority groups and law enforcement agencies.
This awareness led to wider reporting of hate crimes, and "there was a definite upturn in such reports in 1999, following the summer incidents," said Sue Stengel, Western States Counsel for the regional Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Apparently, the alertness diminished with the passage of time, and slightly different ADL and state figures show that reported anti-Jewish hate crimes dropped between 6.5 to 15 percent from 1999 to 2000. The 2000 figure might have been even lower, but for an "uptick" in anti-Semitic hate crimes following the outbreak of renewed Middle East violence in September, Stengel said.
In general, there has been an increase in the severity of hate crimes, from earlier swastika graffiti to vandalism and personal harassment, Stengel noted.
Dana Friedlander, director of domestic affairs for the regional American Jewish Committee, also observed improvements in hate crime reporting, especially by schools, which are now required to reports such incidents.
Friedlander warned that during economic downturns, immigrants and Jews tend to be targeted increasingly for hate crimes.
Overall, of the 1,957 California hate crimes reported in 2000, the targeted victims were blacks in 31 percent of the incidents, male homosexuals in 16.6 percent, Jews in 12.1 percent, Hispanics in 10.2 percent, and whites in 7.4 percent.