Orange County hate crime reports are up slightly, but those involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims victims spiked, according to latest data released by officials Thursday.
A total of 44 hate crimes were reported in 2015 versus 40 in 2014, a 10 percent increase, while reported anti-LGBT crimes rose to 11 in 2015 as compared with 8 in 2014, an increase of 38 percent.
Seven of the reported hate crimes specifically targeted individuals based on sexual orientation while four reported hate crimes targeted transgender victims, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission that issued the report.
The increase in anti-LGBT crimes is "a bit of an anomaly," said Rusty Kennedy, CEO of the commission. As happens in many cases, he said, the rise is likely tied to the national discussion on LGBT rights.
"With the national debate turning to gay marriage and other things, including safe bathrooms for transgender kids and those kinds of issues that are uncomfortable for some, there are people on the fringes who seize those opportunities to vilify and dehumanize those communities," Kennedy said. "As a result, you see a rise in hate crimes targeting them."
The anti-LGBT hate crimes included a reported attack on a transgender woman in a parking lot who was approached by two white men in a pickup truck. According to the report, suspects yelled "faggot" then pelted the victim with lit cherry bombs, a type of illegal firecracker. The victim was struck twice by cherry bombs in the foot, Kennedy said.
Hate crimes reported against Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim rose slightly, from one reported in 2014 to two last year, while hate incident reports targeting Muslims rose sharply. According to the commission, overall reported hate incidents rose from 14 in 2014 to 43 in 2015 and primarily involved "Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, including the Sikh community."
Eighty-eight percent of the 43 reported hate incidents in Orange County last year impacted Muslims or people believed to be Muslim.
Hate crimes include painting hate graffiti on private property, criminal threats of violence against an individual or group, assault, or murder.
A hate incident is behavior motivated by hate or bias, but is typically protected by First Amendment freedom of expression and not deemed a crime. Examples include distribution of non-threatening racist fliers to anti-LGBT placards at a parade or a funeral, according to the commission.
Kennedy said most of the hate incidents reported against Muslims involved hate mail, emails or calls to the local office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group that has an office in Anaheim. Most of the reported incidents occurred at the end of 2015.
In the past, African-Americans were the group most often targeted in Orange County, Kennedy said. Reported hate crimes against blacks were down in 2015. Reported hate crimes targeting Jewish victims edged up, from six to seven. Anti-Latino hate crimes have been on the decline for several years.
Los Angeles County officials told KPCC earlier this year that they saw an increase in reported hate crimes targeting Muslims, Arab-Americans and people perceived to be Muslim during the last two months of 2015. The bulk of these occurred after the terrorist attacks in Paris last November and the mass shooting in San Bernardino County in December.
In February, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations said there were 11 reported hate crimes against Muslims during November and December 2015. County officials have since raised that tally to 13. This is compared with just one case the previous year during the same time period.
These trends are reflected somewhat in statewide data. According to the California Department of Justice, reported hate crimes in the state increased overall from 758 reported crimes in 2014 to 837 in 2015.
Reported hate crimes involving religious orientation statewide are up, with 40 targeting Muslims in 2015, compared with 18 in 2014. Reported hate crimes targeting Jewish victims also rose, from 80 to 97.
Reported hate crimes involving sexual orientation did not rise significantly in California last year, but they accounted for a large share: nearly 23 percent of all hate crimes reported in the state in 2015.
Statewide, there was an increase in hate crimes targeting Latinos: Anti-Latino crimes in California rose 35 percent in 2015, to 81 reported crimes from 60 in 2014. Hate crimes targeting African-Americans statewide between 2014 and 2015 dropped from 312 to 300; hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders went up slightly from 26 to 28.