Five years ago, Robin Toma, executive director of Los Angeles County’s Commission on Human Relations, was alarmed after reading the county’s annual hate crime report. Hate crimes had been steadily rising since 2013, and it was proof, he said, that the commission had more work to do to stop the pernicious spread of racism and bigotry.
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Toma approached county Supervisor Hilda Solis with an idea to establish an anti-hate program that assisted people who reported hate crimes and hate incidents, which are hostile acts motivated by prejudice but don’t necessarily rise to the level of a crime. The system would involve a 211 L.A. hotline, resources to respond to hate, an education component, and support for organizations advocating for victims.
In 2018, LA vs. Hate was born, helping Los Angeles County residents under a model that, this year, was replicated statewide.
California vs. Hate, the state’s multilingual hotline, online portal and support network, was launched in May as a non-emergency program through the state Civil Rights Department. Like its L.A. counterpart, California vs. Hate tracks hate crimes and incidents and connects residents with resources like therapy, legal aid or grants for organizations offering victim support.
If successful, the program could be “a real bulwark, a real antiracism system that can take us to a point of not just stopping the rising hate but also reversing it,” Toma said.
The question is whether California vs. Hate will be effective. Hate crimes and violent incidents in L.A. County increased 23% in 2021, despite the important work done by LA vs. Hate. And, can a new statewide system reach people at the margins and build trust with underrepresented groups that are already skeptical of government entities designed to protect them.
“It’s not enough to be heard,” said Lorreen Pryor, president and CEO of the Black Youth Leadership Project based in Elk Grove. “We want someone to deal with it and stop it from happening.”
While California is often perceived as a progressive bastion, it is no stranger to hate. Newly released data from the state Attorney General’s Office shows that reported hate crimes increased 22% from 2021 to 2022. Black people remain the most targeted, with reported hate crimes increasing 27%. Hate crimes involving bias against sexual orientation rose 29%.
Nationwide, hate crimes have increased nearly 12%, according to the latest data from the FBI.
While some advocates see California vs. Hate as a significant step to stop and even prevent hateful acts, not everyone is as optimistic.
Pryor wondered what impact it will have on the Black community. Valuable resources are helpful, she said, but that requires community members to understand every facet of the system. They also need to have a sense that hotline workers will know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
“I need to know that the person on the other end has been through something similar and can support me through that and will be there in that moment and for what comes next,” Pryor said.
California vs. Hate has so far received 180 reported acts from roughly 40% of the state’s 58 counties. Most of the reports came by phone.
About half of the people who contacted the hotline agreed to continue working with professionals who can follow up with additional support – whether it’s legal, mental health-related or possible victim compensation. Civil Rights Department officials say staff members are trained to deal with trauma and communicate with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. To help increase access to California communities, the initiative is in the process of implementing a multilingual outreach campaign.
Building trust is key, and to that end, officials are engaging with those who have been historically mistrustful of law enforcement, said Kevin Kish, director of the state’s Civil Rights Department. As California vs. Hate developed, officials gathered input from about 100 community organizations, and plan to continue partnerships with various groups emphasizing community healing.
Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit founded during the pandemic to combat anti-Asian hatred, knows what it takes to confront bigotry by building coalitions and advocating for new laws. Cofounder Cynthia Choi said gathering data to identify the needs of specific community members and collaborating with government is important, but so is strengthening relationships with every community.
“We see this work as being very much long term, and it’s going to take all of us,” Choi said.
As a victim of hate, Hong Lee understands why some people may be hesitant to come forward. In 2020, Lee was waiting to order lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles when she was harassed by a man who told her to go back to Asia. Lee filmed the incident and called 911, but an officer on scene told her the interaction was normal.
After learning about LA vs. Hate from a friend, Lee received counseling services. She also worked with the Los Angeles Police Department to rewrite policies for handling hate crime incidents and helped retrain patrol officers for when they respond to hate incidents. As president of Seniors Fight Back, a Torrance nonprofit offering free self-defense classes to elders in the AAPI community, she found a way to assist others.
“It’s hard to describe, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” Lee said.
Since 2019, 2,171 people have submitted a report to 211 L.A. and agreed to further assistance, according to provisional figures from the county’s human rights commission.
For advocates like Toma, the success of California vs. Hate’s will ultimately come down to its ability to follow a similar path as L.A., one that leaves no individual or community behind.
“Nobody is more inspiring and influential than victims of hate who are empowered now to speak up and encourage others to report and take action, and not accept this as something you have to put up with,” he said.
About the Author
Julie Lynem is a journalism lecturer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and cofounder of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County and RaiseUp SLO. Lynem is a veteran journalist who has been a reporter, columnist or editor at the Indianapolis Star, San Francisco Chronicle and San Luis Obispo Tribune.
CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.