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US Hate Crimes Increased 11 Percent in 2002 - 2002-09-15

Many U.S. cities reported a surge in hate crimes against Muslims and Middle Easterners after September 11.

Officials of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations say 2001 was the worst year for hate crimes in the 21 years that the commission has kept statistics. In an 11 percent increase over the year 2000, 1,031 hate crimes were reported last year.

Although hate crimes are directed toward many minority groups, one-fifth of those targeted last year were Middle Easterners or Muslims, or South Asians like Indian Sikhs, who were mistaken for Muslims.

The crimes range from property damage to brutal assaults. And one Los Angeles murder is considered a possible hate crime: on September 14, an Egyptian Christian was shot in his suburban store. Police are still unsure of the killer's motive.

Robin Toma, executive director of the human relations commission, describes another crime against a Hispanic man. "Take, for instance, the Latino man who was forced by a carload of six men to pull over on the freeway," she said. "They pulled him out of his car and put a gun to his head. When the assailants realized the victim spoke Spanish, they let him go."

Officials say the number of hate crimes could have been higher if law enforcement had not offered added protection to local mosques and other potential targets, and if government leaders had not spoken out, as they did, against the hatred.

The human relations commission conducts seminars in the schools to teach skills for resolving conflict. It has also produced public service announcements urging tolerance, like this one made for local television. Celebrities, including the actor Dennis Quaid and singer Harry Belafonte, tell viewers that hatred and patriotism are incompatible.

Following the violent attacks of September 11, there have been hundreds of violent attacks against innocent Americans. Remember what that flag you're waving stands for.

The Reverend G. Lind Taylor is director of the hate-crimes prevention program for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles. The organization carries on the work of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Mr. Taylor thinks some who targeted Muslims after September 11 would otherwise target blacks, Latinos, gays and members of other minority groups. "[These were] Individuals who had either latent issues that related to hate, and some personal issues, that they lashed out with a false persona of patriotism," he explained.

Local officials say vigorous prosecution is one way to stop hate crimes. Crimes motivated by hatred for a particular ethnic, racial or religious group carry special penalties. Scott Millington, the Deputy District Attorney in charge of prosecuting hate crimes, says his office also works with community organizations that serve minority groups. They include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and dozens of others. "Many of these organizations bring victims in, victims who might be reluctant to either report the hate crime or testify to the hate crime, and they're actually partners with us in our effort to combat hate crimes," he said.

The Reverend Zedar Broadous, a Baptist minister who serves on the human relations commission, said immigrants want the same things that he wants for his family: "Liberty, justice, peace, that they can live in America, that their children can grow in America."

The minister said the list of 1,000 hate crimes could have been longer after the September terrorist attacks if community leaders had ignored the problem. "It could have been worse had there not been people in our community that stepped forward and said, 'we are going to understand what has occurred and we're not going to charge a group, a race, a religion, a people with what has occurred'," he said.

Local officials note there were no angry mobs on the streets after the terror attacks, in Los Angeles or other American cities. But they say the hate crimes that occurred are still disturbing. They say the crimes compounded the tragedy, creating additional victims of September 11.