Editorials

Hate crimes are up, even in California. Don’t let Trump drag us back to Prop. 187 days

This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) AP

Californians see ourselves as tolerant and inclusive. Still, how about that woman with the brick who yelled “go back to your country” as she brutally beat a 92-year-old Latino grandfather in Los Angeles on the Fourth of July?

Or the white supremacist who showed up in violent footage from Charlottesville, Va. – and on a list of contractors with government security clearances at the Redondo Beach facility of Northrup Grumman?

The last few weeks in California have been a veritable buffet of bigotry. Now comes an Attorney General’s report showing a 17.4 percent spike in hate crimes last year.

Or the San Bernardino gang prosecutor posting racist, anti-immigrant memes and marveling on social media that no one had yet shot U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters?

Or the vice-mayor of Dixon ranting homophobically against LGBT “tinkerbells” and “faries[sic]” in the local paper?

Or the anti-Semitic robocall on behalf of the Republican who is running for Congress in Contra Costa Count, John Fitzgerald, who claims Jews seek to dilute the races and denies the Holocaust?

The last few weeks in California have been a veritable buffet of bigotry. Now comes an Attorney General’s report showing a 17.4 percent spike in hate crimes last year.

Such incidents, after a long decline, have been drifting upward since 2015. But last year’s burst of hatred was a substantially bigger increase than either of the prior two years.

As The Sacramento Bee’s Anita Chabria and Michael Finch II reported, local law enforcement agencies in California logged nearly 1,100 crimes against people in 2017 because of their race, ethnicity, creed, gender or sexual orientation.

Hate crimes at grade schools – grade schools – accounted for nearly 8 percent of the cases. Hate crimes at churches, temples, synagogues and mosques more than doubled. Anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and anti-black crimes each surged by 20 percent or more, with a a stunning 52 percent jump in crimes involving anti-Hispanic bias.

The 30,000-foot explanation, of course, is human nature. A critical state audit this year also may have encouraged reporting and bumped up some statistics.

But this, as we say too often now, isn’t normal. Violence of this sort also rises and falls in inverse proportion to the quality of our leaders, and tracks our insecurity about change and our capacity to adapt to it.

Californians were mostly managing that insecurity, despite tectonic shifts in climate, technology and the economy, which has become ever more global. Then came President Donald Trump, a man so insecure that even his preferred mode of communication, Twitter, evokes Chicken Little.

Now we are led by an administration that runs on and exploits fear – fear of brown people, LGBT people, non-Christian people, educated people, female people, people even from countries that have long been our allies.

That fear, amplified by social media (and foreign enemies, maybe) has separated non-white immigrant children from their parents, inflated non-white immigrant crime, shut out non-white immigrant asylum seekers, smeared non-white countries as s***holes, disparaged non-white and female members of Congress such as California Sen. Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Waters, and generally created a safe, well-armed space for internal division.

That’s how fear works. We know because California has been here before.

Unnerved by the mass migration of Central Americans fleeing civil war in the 1980s, by demographic shifts and by recession, we panicked and embraced the xenophobic Proposition 187 in the early 1990s. The sales pitch was that the social costs of illegal immigration were falling too much on state taxpayers, and the federal government needed to pay more.

There’s no way to know how much collateral damage was really unleashed by the time the courts threw out the vast majority of Proposition 187, but one thing we do know is that none of that animus stopped the changes. California is a majority minority state now.

That’s not how it worked out. In 1994, when the initiative passed, Los Angeles County alone reported a 23.5 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos, and in the 11 months afterward, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles logged more than 1,000 complaints of abuse on its Spanish-language hotline.

Those complaints, now cited in scholarly journals, would have been right at home in this summer’s headlines: Brown-skinned customers being refused service unless they showed cash and credit cards up front, or spoke English. Latino drivers being pulled over by law enforcement officers demanding a green card. Teenagers pelting a Latina home care nurse with rocks as she walked past their school yard. An arsonist who scrawled “Wite Power” on a Mexican-American family’s home and then torched it.

There’s no way to count all the collateral damage unleashed by the time the courts threw out the vast majority of Proposition 187, but one thing we do know is that none of that animus stopped the changes. California is a majority minority state now. Our economy is global. The Bay Area alone has a gross domestic product bigger than Sweden’s.

And humans remain human, which is why, for all that experience, we remain susceptible to fear.

Let’s try not to be. One bit of good news is that many of us are calling out bigotry. The woman suspected of beating the L.A. grandpa was identified and arrested. San Bernardino County is disciplining the racist prosecutor. Northrup Grumman says the neo-Nazi no longer works there. The Republican Party has repudiated the Nazis on its slate.

In coming months, voters will get to choose whether bullies like the vice-mayor of Dixon truly represent them. In 2020, voters may decide a statewide initiative on whether to repeal California’s “sanctuary state” law and successful immigrant driver’s license.

We can also be clear with elected officials: Seven hate crimes were referred in 2017 to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, but none were prosecuted as such. Hate crimes are hard to prove, but given the 50 percent statewide average, she can do better.

So can California. More than most places, we know there can be life after hate.

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