2023 Hate Crime Report highlights much work remains to be done to combat hate

July 3, 2024 /

The latest 2023 Hate Crime in California Report by the Department of Justice reveals a continuing trend of reported offenses against LGBTQ+, Jewish, and Muslim communities. Despite an overall decrease in California of reported hate crimes by 7.1%, from 2,120 in 2022 to 1,970 in 2023, these three communities experienced the opposite. 

The LGBTQ+ community, for example, saw an 86.4% increase in reported hate crime events from 2022. This is consistent with reported offenses dating back ten years. From 2014 to 2023, there’s been a 91.1% increase in hate-related offenses against LGBTQ+ persons. 

Certain religious groups continue to be targeted. Jewish persons experienced a 52.9% increase from 2022, and since 2014, there’s been a 261.3% upturn in reported hate crimes against Jews, per the report. Hate crimes against Muslims rose by 37.5% from 2020, but the report did not give statistics for the last ten years. 

And while there was a 20.6% decrease in hate crimes against Blacks, anti-Black bias events remained the most prevalent. 

Kern County sees a decrease 

Kern County is no stranger to these offenses but it did see fewer hate crimes reported to law enforcement. A total of 16 were reported in 2023, nine fewer than in 2022. Five of those cases were handled by Bakersfield police, four by the Kern High School District, two by California City, and one case each by Kern County Sheriff’s office, CSU Bakersfield, Delano, McFarland, and Ridgecrest. 

The story behind the numbers 

Behind the numbers is a real person who, depending on the circumstances, has experienced everything from insults, threats, to severe beatings and death. LGBTQ+ advocates say the increase in reported hate crimes

against their community is troubling but hardly surprising. To exacerbate the problem they say, is a lack of interest by local law enforcement to take these matters seriously. One Kern County mother of a victim who was severally beaten because of his sexual orientation said police treated her child more like a suspect than a victim during an interview. The case remains unsolved. 

“It’s been extremely difficult for me and my child to deal with everything that’s happened. My child has permanent damage to his body,” said the mother who did not want to be named publicly to protect her child. 

This then leads to victims not willing to report offenses, claims the mother. Others echo the same thought. “I believe that hate crimes are often underreported due to lower psychological safety in targeted communities and higher perceptions of injustice regarding how they are addressed,” wrote Traco Matthews of Bakersfield in an email. Matthews serves as a Commissioner of the California Racial Equity Commission. 

Whatever the reason may be for not reporting hate crimes, the DOJ recognizes that the data presented in its reports may not adequately reflect the actual number of hate crime events in the state. 

Not all hate crimes are prosecuted 

Another key point of contention arises over what some say is a lack of willingness on the part of prosecutors to try a case as a hate crime. Of the 679 hate crimes that were referred to County District Attorney’s offices for prosecution, 322 such cases, less than half or 47%, were tried as a hate crime. The conviction rate was even lower. Of the 322 cases tried as a hate crime, just 32% resulted in a conviction, per the 2023 report. 

One case that troubles Bakersfield advocate Audrey Chavez is the shooting death of Daniel Landeros, who was a member of the LGBTQ community and an advocate for immigration reform and social justice. Landeros was shot and killed on the night of September 18, 2023, while celebrating his 43rd birthday at Yokuts Park. According to Bakersfield

police, Landeros and a friend were walking through the park and were confronted by a man who allegedly shouted a homophobic slur at them. Landeros answered back with an expletive. Moments later, the suspect allegedly drew a gun, shooting and killing Landeros on the spot. However, the Kern County District Attorney’s office did not file any hate crime charge against the suspect, Fredi Rivera of Delano. The prosecutor handling the case, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Allen issued a statement indicating there was insufficient evidence to warrant hate crime charges. “We filed the (first-degree murder) charges based on the evidence submitted. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” read the statement. 

Fighting back 

Advocates for hate crime victims admit they face an uphill battle in confronting bigoted attitudes and it can be frustrating when police and prosecutors don’t take cases seriously. But too much is at stake to ignore these matters. Hate crime victims as well as their offenders come in all colors and from every ethnic group. The mother whose child was severely beaten admits she is afraid of speaking up fearful her child might once again be targeted. But she is not giving up hope. 

“One day I will be out there. But I’m not there yet,” she said. 

Matthews encourages hate crime victims and their families to speak out and report any hate-related offenses. “We must continually address hate crimes in a manner that is consistent and just,” said Matthews. “I pray for the day when hate crimes are diminished across all groups in our state because we have learned to live in harmony together,” he said. 

Getting help 

The DOJ notes on its website that if you believe you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, notify local law enforcement and consider taking the following steps: 

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and if needed, seek medical attention.
  • Write down the exact words that were used and take note of any other relevant facts. 
  • If safe to do so, save all evidence and take photos. 
  • Get contact information for other victims and witnesses.
  • Reach out to community organizations in your area that deal with hate crimes or incidents. The 2023 Hate Crime in California Report can be found here.

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Jose Gaspar

José Gaspar is a veteran journalist and former news anchor/reporter with Telemundo, Bakersfield. Prior, he worked 28 years at KBAK-TV as a reporter. Email him at jose@southkernsol.org.