Mariel Garza

Still shocking, intolerance is on the wane

A swastika was found painted on the walls of AEPi at UC Davis.
A swastika was found painted on the walls of AEPi at UC Davis. The Sacramento Bee file

There’s nothing like a swastika scrawled on a wall to stir up strong emotions.

Students at UC Davis found that out recently when someone graffitied two of them on the exterior of a Jewish fraternity on campus. It only takes six little lines slashed together to evoke centuries of pain and suffering and send any reasonable discussion into nastyland.

That may well be what the perpetrator intended. It was likely no coincidence it happened during a heated debate on campus that ensued after the Associated Students of UC Davis passed an advisory resolution asking the regents to divest from any business with connections to Israel.

While it is disheartening that people still use such crude behavior to hurt others, there is an upside. This kind of crime has been in long decline in California, even while the population of this great melting-pot state has increased.

According to the state attorney general’s office, which publishes a deep dive into hate-crime reports in California each year, the real numbers have been decreasing for the past 10 years. By a lot.

Between 2004 and 2013, hate crimes reported in the state dropped by 39 percent, from 1,409 to 863, according to “Hate Crime in California, 2013.” That’s the most recent data available; last year’s numbers won’t be published until next fall. There’s just no rushing bureaucracy.

Hate crime offenses take all sorts of shapes, from murder (none in 2013) to arson (seven in 2013). But the most common form is vandalism (350 in 2013) and assault (403).

This drop is made even more notable by the fact that the state’s population increased by about 3 million people during that time. That means an infinitesimal number of California’s 39 million people are perpetrating hate crimes on each other at any given moment.

And though that swastika in Davis looms large, the amount of religious-based hate crime is smaller yet. Only 129 reported hate crimes in California in 2013 were based on some sort of religious intolerance.

Still, it’s worth noting that a large majority of those – 70 – were reporting anti-Semitic activity. And though there may be a perception that there’s widespread anti-Muslim crime, there were only 21 reported in 2013.

This is an encouraging sign of a society that’s getting along better. But hate-crime experts wonder if 2014 or 2015 might see an upward spike, based on recent news events. The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., ripped open the unhealed wound of racism in America, and the fallout and introspection is still ongoing.

Hate crimes sparked by intolerance of people of other races and ethnicities still account for more than half of the reported incidents, and African Americans are much more likely than any other group to be the subjects of hate crimes: 285 cases in 2013 compared with 38 anti-white crimes; 64 anti-Latino hate crimes; and 30 anti-Asian hate crimes.

The annual report is chock full of other interesting information, such as the location of hate crimes reported. While amusement parks throw together people from all races and socioeconomic levels and make them wait in lines in the hot sun, people are apparently having too much fun to practice racial or other intolerance. Not even one was reported in 2013. Disneyland might have some scientific basis for its claim to be “the happiest place on Earth.”

Another oddity: Schools and colleges reported more hate crimes in 2013 – 86 – than jails or prisons (only 26), where racial tension seems to be a way of life.

Like any crime statistics, these are only a snapshot of what’s happening and not a wholly accurate one, at that. Not all crimes committed are reported, and there are many reasons that some groups might not feel safe to report hate crimes. But according to experts at the Anti-Defamation League, the amount of anti-Jewish hate crimes is a good barometer of what’s going on for others. When intolerance for the Jewish faith goes up, so does intolerance in general.

But it is worth remembering, when we get caught up in the next sad display of intolerance, that the reason each hate-crime case is so shocking is, happily, that they are so rare.