• Fri. Nov 25th, 2022

Column: California takes the lead on hate. It’s good. Someone has to

ByPatricia S. Stevens

Nov 25, 2022

How do you stop hate crimes? How do you even know where to start?

California is taking a national-leading step to answer these questions with two new federally sponsored and funded efforts. The Commission on the State of Hate seeks to understand why hate crime is on the rise and how to combat it. The Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education is exploring how to immunize California schoolchildren against the misinformation and propaganda that fuels hostility.

I’m not a fan of committees when it comes to solving problems. But these are different, both because of the people on them (a no-nonsense group known for getting results) and because of their strategic mission to find solutions that can be implemented in law enforcement, in classrooms, and everywhere where hatred haunts the golden state.

As Hate Commission member and transgender activist Bamby Salcedo put it: “It is important that we all wake up and understand that hate is real and hate is happening before our eyes. It’s really up to all of us to make sure and really think about whether we’re contributing to the hatred that people are experiencing, or are we believing in humanity and the good of humanity?”

Silence is violence, and it’s good that California, as one of the most powerful states in the Union, chooses to speak out when the cacophony of attacks from the far right feels deafening and effective.

We’ve all seen the news of hate crimes or attacks on vulnerable communities – most recently and tragically the mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado. But these events don’t paint a full picture of the extent to which people turn to violence based on race, religion, or gender identity, even in California, where we pride ourselves on tolerance.

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino and another member of the Hate Commission, has spent his life tracking these numbers. What he sees is alarming.

Hate crimes against gay people increased 51% year over year in major US cities in 2021 — and 48% in California. Los Angeles has seen a 59% increase in anti-transgender crimes so far in 2022, according to Levin, from 17 reported incidents last year to 27 this year.

And we still have a month left.

Those weren’t even the worst jumps. Anti-Asian hate crimes rose early in the pandemic, when then-President Trump dubbed COVID-19 the Chi-na flu and said it like he’d never heard the country’s name spoken out loud, just another dog whistle of racism. Hate crimes in Asia have since increased, by 224% by 2021 – although in many places it appears to be declining in 2022.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes in major cities rose 59% year-on-year in 2021 as far-right pundits continue to promote conspiracy theories that revive the long-standing trope that Jewish people covertly control the world. That likely contributed to a 47 percent increase in attacks on places of worship in California between 2020 and 2021 — not all in synagogues.

One of the most worrying aspects of rising hate crimes for Commissioner Erroll Southers is their increasing involvement with politics.

Southers is USC’s chief of security and risk assurance and has worked for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In the years following 9/11, then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hired him to oversee protecting California’s infrastructure from terrorist threats.

A few years ago, hate crimes weren’t as mainstream, he said, and not as closely linked to our political discourse.

Levin points out that open discussion of hate was largely frowned upon by larger society, leaving those with extreme views on the very fringes of acceptance. Maybe we’d ignore Uncle Joe’s casual racism at the dinner table, but fascism in broad daylight was a different kind of lineage (although it shouldn’t be).

Today, hate campaigns against vulnerable groups are a must for rabid right-wing media scholars like Tucker Carlson, who redoubled his hateful anti-transgender rhetoric immediately after the Colorado shooting.

For months, Carlson and other conservative commentators have hammered at the ugly and untrue notion that gender-affirming nursing is “mutilation” and that there is a conspiracy in the LGBTQ community to “sexualize” children. A few weeks ago, Carlson went so far as to encourage viewers to “fight back” against the LGBTQ community, “no matter what the law says”.

I’m going to take a moment to remind us all that Carlson’s name got around as a presidential candidate. That kind of rhetoric from an influential figure with a large following can have devastating effects, Southers said.

“Words matter,” Southers told me. “There are people out there on the fringes who feel the need to get involved. They feel the need to operationalize what they hear.”

The Proud Boys are an unfortunate example of this truth. As a misogynist hate group involved in the January 6 riots, they have increasingly turned their focus to transgender attacks. In California, Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen story lesson at a Northern California library and stormed a bar in Woodland, outside Sacramento, to protest a planned (and later canceled) drag event there.

The Crowd Counting Consortium, an academic attempt to understand protests, recently found that right-wing attacks on the LGBTQ community are on the rise. This year alone, 40 events were counted aimed at drag queen story hours.

That brings us to the second commission – the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education. While specifically targeting growing anti-Semitism, it offers an important model for combating all hatred.

One of her goals is to figure out how we can not only teach our school children the truth about the Holocaust, but also how “young people can be vaccinated against the dangerous messages of hatred and division that permeate our public discourse,” according to Gouveneur Gavin Newsom put it at the time announcing the effort in October.

While “vaccinating” children in classrooms, akin to the hysteria of critical race theory, will almost certainly be resented by some parents, I can think of no more important lesson than distinguishing hate from fact.

“Thank God we live in a state where there are people who respond to protect everyone. We all deserve dignity and peace,” Levin said. “We are killing young people for bigotry and political gain and this has to stop.”

I’ll end up with something hopeful ’cause hate should never have the last word.

Instead, here are some of California’s newest Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick, whose work speaks to our mistakes as well as our limitless quest to build lives of autonomy and promise.

Here in my California it’s Chinatown everywhere

everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
Little Italy everywhere. Less Confederacy.

No internment in the valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.

In my California, free sounds and free touch.
Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful light bodies.