LOS ANGELES, Aug. 14 (JTA) — Hate crimes against Jews in California rose 42.2 percent between 1996 and 2000, according to a report released by the state’s attorney general — though part of the rise may be due to more efficient reporting.
Analyses by local Jewish agencies indicate that the increase — 236 hate crimes last year, compared to 166 five years ago — is not as ominous as it sounds. Deeper digging shows that reported anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2000 were actually lower than in 1999, with the emphasis on “reported.”
Overall, of the 1,957 California hate crimes reported in 2000, blacks were the targeted victims in 31 percent of the incidents, male homosexuals in 16.6 percent, Jews in 12.1 percent, Hispanics in 10.2 percent, and whites in 7.4 percent.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer released his annual summary on Aug. 10, the second anniversary of the shooting spree at Los Angeles-area Jewish community center that left five people seriously injured. Buford Furrow Jr., who also killed a Filipino American mailman the same day, is serving a life sentence for murder.
The Jewish center attack, coupled with the torching of three Sacramento-area synagogues in 1999, apparently created a heightened awareness of hate crimes among Jews, minority groups and law enforcement agencies.
This awareness led to wider reporting of hate crimes, and “there was a definite upturn in such reports in 1999, following the summer incidents,” said Sue Stengel, Western states counsel for the regional Anti-Defamation League.
Apparently, the alertness diminished with the passage of time, and ADL and state figures show that reported hate crimes against Jews dropped between 6.5 percent to 15 percent between 1999 and 2000.
The 2000 figure might have been even lower, but for an “uptick” in anti-Semitic hate crimes following the outbreak of renewed Middle East violence last fall, Stengel said.
In general, there has been an increase in the severity of hate crimes — moving from swastika daubings to vandalism and personal harassment, Stengel noted.
Dana Friedlander, director of domestic affairs for the regional office of the American Jewish Committee, also cited improvements in hate crime reporting, especially by schools, which are now required to report such incidents.