How to stop hate crimes? How do you even know where to start?
California is taking a leading step to answer these questions with two new state-sponsored and funded efforts. The State of Hate Commission seeks to understand why hate crimes are increasing and how to combat them. The Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education is examining how to inoculate California school children against disinformation and propaganda that stoke animosity.
I’m not very good at committees when it comes to solving problems. But these are different, both because of the people who make them up (a no-nonsense group known for getting results) and their strategic mission to deliver solutions that can be implemented across law enforcement, the classrooms and all the places where hatred poisons the Golden State.
As Bamby Salcedo, hate commissioner and transgender activist, said, “It’s important for all of us to wake up and realize that the hate is real and the hate is happening before our eyes. It’s really up to all of us to make sure, and to really think about, are we contributing to the hatred that people are experiencing or are we believing in humanity and the good of humanity?
Silence is violence, and it is good that California, as one of the most powerful states in the union, chooses to use its voice when the cacophony of far-right attacks seems deafening and effective. .
We’ve all seen the news stories about hate crimes or the targeting of vulnerable communities — most recently and tragically, the mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado. But these events don’t paint the full picture of the amount of people who turn to violence based on race, religion, or gender identity, even in California, where we pride ourselves on tolerance.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino and another member of the hate commission, has spent his life tracking these numbers. What he sees is alarming.
Anti-gay hate crimes rose 51% in major US cities in 2021 from the previous year – and they rose 48% in California. Los Angeles has seen a 59% increase in anti-transgender crimes so far in 2022, according to Levin, from 17 reported incidents last year to 27 this year.
And we have a month left.
Those weren’t even the worst jumps. Anti-Asian hate crimes began to spike at the start of the pandemic, when then-President Trump dubbed COVID-19 the Chi-na flu, pronouncing it as if he had never heard the country name spoken out loud, just another whistle of racism. . Asian hate crimes have since risen, up 224% in 2021 – although they appear to be falling in many places in 2022.
Anti-Jewish hate crimes are up 59% in major cities in 2021 from the previous year, as far-right pundits continue to promote conspiracy theories that resurrect the long-held trope that the Jews secretly control the world. This likely contributed to a 47% increase in attacks on places of worship in California between 2020 and 2021 — not all in synagogues.
One of the most concerning aspects of the rise in hate crimes for commission member Erroll Southers is their growing connection to politics.
Southers is the head of security and risk assurance at USC and has worked for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In the years following 9/11, then Governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to oversee the protection of California’s infrastructure against terrorist threats.
A few years ago, hate crimes weren’t as common, he said, and weren’t as linked to our political discourse.
Levin points out that for the most part open discussion of hate was frowned upon by society at large, leaving those with extreme views on the periphery of acceptability. Maybe we’d ignore the occasional racism of Uncle Joe at the dinner table, but daytime fascism was a different kind of line (though it shouldn’t be).
Now, hate campaigns against vulnerable groups are de rigueur for rabid right-wing media savants such as Tucker Carlson, who doubled down on his malicious anti-transgender rhetoric immediately after the Colorado shooting.
For months, Carlson and other conservative commentators have hammered home the ugly misconception that gender-affirming care is “mutilation” and that there is a conspiracy in the LGBTQ community to “sexualize” children. A few weeks ago, Carlson went so far as to encourage viewers to ‘fight back’ against the LGBTQ community, “no matter what the law says”.
I’m going to take a moment to remind all of us that Carlson’s name has come up as a presidential candidate. That kind of rhetoric from an influential figure with a large following can have a devastating effect, Southers said.
“Words matter,” Southers told me. “There are people on the margins who feel the need to get involved. They feel the need to operationalize what they hear.
The Proud Boys are an unfortunate example of this truth. A misogynistic hate group involved in the January 6 insurgency, they have increasingly focused on transgender attacks. In California, Proud Boys interrupted an hour of drag queen storytelling at a Northern California library and stormed a bar in Woodland, outside Sacramento, to protest a planned drag event ( and canceled later) there.
The Crowd Counting Consortium, an academic effort to understand the protests, recently found that right-wing attacks on the LGBTQ community are on the rise. It has tallied 40 events aimed at drag queen story hours this year alone.
Which brings us to the second commission – the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education. Although it specifically targets growing anti-Semitism, it provides an important model for combating all hatred.
One of its goals is to understand not only how to teach our schoolchildren the truth about the Holocaust, but also how to “inoculate young people against the dangerous messages of hatred and division that permeate our public discourse,” as put it. said Gov. Gavin Newsom when announcing the effort in October.
While there is almost certainly some reluctance on the part of some parents to “inoculate” children into classrooms, such as the critical race theory hysteria, I can think of no more important lesson than how to identify hate from the facts.
“Thank God we live in a state where there are people who react to protect everyone. We all deserve dignity and peace,” Levin said. “We are killing young people for bigotry and political gain, and that must stop.”
I’ll end with something hopeful because hate should never have the last word.
Instead, here are some of California’s newest Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick, whose work speaks to our flaws, as well as our boundless yearning to build lives of self-reliance and promise.
Here in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,
everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederation.
No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for juniors.
In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful bodies of light.
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