A report released by the California Department of Justice found that hate crimes increased by 11.2 percent between 2015 and 2016, from 837 to 931. Perhaps this report should come as no surprise, given it spanned a year with one of the highest levels of racial discontent since the 1992 Rodney King riots and a presidential candidate who routinely excoriated Mexican immigrants. Racially motivated hate crimes accounted for 55.9 percent of all hate crimes statewide: 48.4 percent were against African Americans, 16 percent were anti-Latino or Hispanic, and 10.8 percent were antiwhite. A fifth involved the victims’ sexual orientation. (Nationwide, another report shows a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims.)
The report tracked two hate crimes in Santa Barbara County: One was racially motivated, the other homophobic.
However, the Santa Barbara Police Department also recorded three hate crimes in 2016 that were not included in the report. All were assaults on men perceived to be gay and took place near State Street in the late afternoon, between June and October. Notably, hate crimes against gay males increased statewide by 40.7 percent that year.
In 2017 the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office has already handled three hate crimes. On February 23, a white suspect threatened an Asian man while yelling racial slurs during a vehicle-related altercation. Two days later, at the PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) shelter, a white man threatened an African-American man. Then in April, a 19-year-old Isla Vista resident physically attacked a 63-year-old man while yelling homophobic remarks.
In 2008, former President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after a gay teenager from Wyoming and an African-American man from Texas, respectively, both victims of brutal murders in 1998. The landmark legislation expanded the authority of the FBI to investigate hate crimes nationally.
A special report published in June by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than half of all violent hate crimes went unreported between 2011 and 2015, based on an annual survey of 90,000 households. Humiliation, concern about retaliation, fear that their identity will be discovered, language barriers, and disabilities are factors that often silence victims and make it difficult to take an accurate pulse on hate crimes in our community, according to Cyndi Silverman, regional director of Santa Barbara’s Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Silverman says she’s witnessed a marked increase in hate incidents in the last year. Hate incidents, a term used by the ADL, differ from hate crimes in that they do not threaten anyone’s immediate physical safety but encourage a culture of discrimination and fear, such as when white supremacist posters were found along Cliff Drive near Santa Barbara City College.
National civil rights organizations have also reported a significant uptick over the past year, especially in the month immediately following the 2016 presidential election, during which the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 1,094 incidents. Silverman explained: “There’s been an environment in which people have felt empowered to say or do things they wouldn’t have done before, that they would have kept under wraps. Maybe this was under the surface, but now it’s out.” She added, “Our bubble is not as perfect as we think.”
Silverman and Brianna Moffitt, ADL’s director of development, also reported xenophobic bullying on Santa Barbara school campuses, with kids telling other classmates to “go back to your country.” As a result, ADL is partnering with school districts and other groups throughout the tri-county area to host antibias trainings and dialogues.
In May, the ADL also held the Together as One community summit, which was attended by about 160 community members ranging from 2 to 97 years of age. The event was designed to encourage dialogues despite differences and help participants identify and unlearn their own implicit biases. On October 29, the ADL will host a second Together as One event, which is free and open to the public. Register at santabarbara.adl.org/together/.