Hate Crimes Against Latinos Are on the Rise in California

But in tough economic times when scapegoating is too easy, what are lawmakers doing to stop it?

By Bryan Gerhart Aug 16, 2011

It’s no secret that the country’s demographics are rapidly changing. And while the shift toward becoming browner and younger is certainly transforming the political landscape, civil rights advocates also believe that it’s creating a dangerous environment for communities of color who they say are becoming the nation’s easiest scapegoats for a lagging economy.

That reality can be seen clearly in in the increasing number of hate crimes. Racially motivated attacks reached a startling number last year, as hate crimes against Latinos in California increased by nearly 50 percent. According to a recently released report by the state attorney general’s office, hate crimes against Latinos jumped from 81 to 119 between 2009 and 2010.

Information on the national number of hate crimes in 2010 will not be available until November, however the new statistics from California suggest that despite a slight dip in reported hate crimes around 2008, attacks are once again on the rise. Between 2003 and 2007, anti-Latino hate crimes rose by 40 percent, but the FBI reported decreases for the following two years. While national reports aren’t always perfect indicators, California’s accuracy in its findings is considered better than most other states’.

"To say [hate crimes statistics] are imperfect would be the understatement of the year," said Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "There have been a number of studies that suggest that the real number of hate crimes is vastly higher than the reported number." 

Potok added that a Department of Justice study released earlier this year found that around 55 percent of all hate crimes go unreported to the police in the first place.

California, which along with Arizona and other border states, has been the focal point of most political hostility on immigration, showed an increase of about 47 percent in anti-Latino hate crimes in 2010. 

While 2009 showed the lowest incidences of such occurrences in more than a decade, the sharp spike contrasts with the decreasing number of hate crimes against black, gay and, Jewish Californians. Anti-black hate crimes are still the most common in the state, making up for 29 percent of the 1,100 reported by California for 2010. 

Tthe Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks the activities of hate groups in the United States, says that there’s a direct line between the country’s heated political rhetoric and hate crime numbers.

"What we’ve noticed as an anecdotal matter … is that there seems to be a lot more vitriol directed at Muslims right now than at Latinos," said Potok, citing last year’s drummed up "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy as a flash point.

"I think the main thing driving [radical groups] and hate crimes as a more general matter has been the changing racial demographics of the country," Potok speculated. "That fear and frustration you see about changing racial demographics of the country went on steroids with the appearance of Obama. The second most important thing is the economy going south right at the same time he appeared on the scene."