In August 2020, Hong Lee was eating at a restaurant in Los Angeles when she was approached by a man who asked her to lunch. When she politely declined, the man began yelling a torrent of racist and sexist insults, and told her to “go back to Asia.” Fearing escalation, Lee recorded the attack and later shared the video online.
Lee said she initially felt shame and anxiety around posting the video, in part because of cultural norms. But after sharing her experience, the video gained mass attention, and more than 5 victims assaulted by the same man came forward, Lee said. One of the cases was later escalated into a hate crime with a criminal threat. Lee said she will continue using her voice to advocate for communities of color through anti-hate initiatives “until these attacks stop.”
“I have to be their voice,” Lee said. “I have to continue advocating for them even if they’re not able to.”
Lee’s initial hesitancy to share her experience is not unusual. As reports of hate and discrimination across California and nationwide grow, state and local efforts are aimed at providing resources to support and empower victims, and prevent hateful acts from happening.
On Aug. 23, California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced that the state will allocate $91.4 million to 173 local organizations that provide services to hate crime victims and facilitate anti-hate programs. Newsom’s announcement comes on the heels of recent high-profile incidents, including the recent killing of a shop owner in the Lake Arrowhead area who openly supported the diverse LGBTQ+ community.
The Governor’s office is also encouraging people to report hate crimes and acts of discrimination, which leaders say are still widely unreported.
“An attack on any of our communities is an attack on everything we stand for as Californians,” the governor said in a statement. “As hate-fueled rhetoric drives increasing acts of bigotry and violence, California is taking action to protect those who are targeted just for being who they are. We’re bolstering our support for victims and anti-hate programs and tackling ignorance and intolerance through education to prevent hate from taking hold in our communities.”
As part of the state’s actions, a letter will be sent to all California public school leaders emphasizing the legal responsibilities and importance of teaching unbiased ethnic studies curriculum, officials said. As a new school year begins, an inclusive curriculum “gives students a chance to see themselves in the fabric of our state,” the letter reads.
The California Civil Rights Department will also launch the first major statewide “CA vs. Hate” media campaign — with multilingual print, radio and digital ads that officials say will focus on traditionally harder-to-reach communities.
Jeff Abrams, Regional Director of the ADL, speaks during the unveiling of a new community mural celebrating Jewish culture in L.A., named The Common Thread and developed with support from the Anti-Defamation League and The Jewish Federation, in Pico-Robertson on Sunday, June 4, 2023.(Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer)
The campaign news follows the state’s previous investment of $44.6 million for anti-hate programs through its “Stop the Hate” program, the spring launch of the multilingual CA vs. Hate hotline — 833-8-NO-HATE — and website to report incidents and find resources, and the creation of the governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education last October 2022. The state has also awarded numerous grants to local nonprofits to strengthen security and increase services, a release said. California also has a Commission on the State of Hate, established in 2021 to track statewide hate crimes and recommend policies.
In the first month of the program’s official launch in May, CA vs Hate received 180 reports of hateful acts across California, officials said.
In L.A., hate crimes rose by 15% in 2022, according to a new report by the Los Angeles Police Department. The department’s analysis revealed 701 hate crimes and incidents were reported in 2022, compared with 610 in 2021. Ninety of those were anti-Hispanic hate crimes, a decrease of 12% from 2021; 180 were anti-Black hate crimes, an increase of 36%; and 33 were anti-Asian hate crimes — a 371% increase from the seven anti-Asian hate crimes reported in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.
The Jewish community was the largest affected by hate crimes in the religion category, the report said, with 89 antisemitic hate crimes reported in 2022, an increase of 24% from the year prior.
Another upcoming report, first presented in late August by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, exhibits these same trends — rising hate crimes — in major U.S. cities, saying that the largest percentage increase in reported hate crimes were against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
But officials say the alarming numbers don’t tell the whole story. Community leaders say there has been a historical underreporting of hate crimes across the state for many reasons — including fear of retaliation, lack of culturally competent resources, immigration concerns and overall distrust of law enforcement. Also, there is general confusion about what a hate crime is or isn’t, and what can be reported, leaders say.
Terra Russell-Slavin, the Chief Impact Officer at The Los Angeles LGBT Center, said that with the “significant” increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation throughout the country in the last year, members of the community are scared to report their experiences to lawmakers. People don’t know who to trust, Russell-Slavin said.
Rows of flower bouquets and pride flags cover the Mag.Pi storefront as a memorial for late Cedar Glen community member Laura Ann “Lauri” Carleton on in Cedar Glen on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)
“Generally, there’s a feeling that the matters won’t be taken seriously, that they’ll be brushed aside, or that no action will be taken,” she said.
Russell-Slavin noted that the Aug. 18 shooting of Cedar Glen shop owner and LGBTQ+ ally Laura Ann Carleton demonstrates “a wake of violence” against the LGBTQ+ community — so it’s important to uplift the narrative to make people feel safe to report.
Hong Lee feels that reporting her experience was necessary to help other victims of such attacks speak out and feel less alone. After what she went through in 2020, she was contacted by officials from LA vs. Hate, an initiative led by the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, which connected her to counseling to help her process.
Now, she serves as an LA vs. Hate ambassador, where she helps other victims of hate and connects them to resources. She also leads the nonprofit Seniors Fight Back, which since 2021 has provided free self-defense workshops and resources to the community, especially Asian American seniors and the vulnerable elderly. LA vs. Hate also supports the nonprofit, which was also recognized by the CA State Assembly.
“To have the city attorney, the DA, just anybody to be able to take action, and for the person to have consequences for their actions, (victims) have to report and they have to speak up,” Lee said. “That’s the only way we’ll put an end to any of this.”
Sophie Cuevas is a care coordinator for LA vs. Hate, where she responds to calls made on its 2-1-1 hotline — the number people can call to report hate incidents and receive referrals to support services. Cuevas shared the experience with a client who called the hotline wanting two perpetrators, who lived in the same neighborhood as her, to be prosecuted.
“There were moments where she was very frustrated and would cry and be upset, and I’d lend her my ear and be empathetic and say, ‘You’re a strong person, you can get through this. I’m still here. I’m still supporting you,’” Cuevas said.
Calling for help — and finding personal support — made a world of difference in being able to move on, Cuevas said. She even formed a friendship with that client.
“I still call her every so often just to say, ‘I’m thinking of you, how are you doing?’” she shared.
Many people experience fears and frustrations with the legal process after reporting, or are scared to reach out to law enforcement in the first place, leaders said.
Becky Monroe, the Deputy Director for Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs at the Civil Rights Department, said that if victims’ experiences are dismissed because they may not rise to the level of a crime, then they might be more hesitant to report when a crime does occur. But CA vs. Hate, the state’s resource and hotline, aims to work with law enforcement to help build trust with diverse communities.
“It does not matter if (the incident) was a crime – we will support you if you’ve been targeted for discrimination,” Monroe said, citing legal support, victim compensation, mental health services and economic services through CA vs. Hate. Monroe said it’s important to ensure the messaging is inclusive, that all services “allow people to connect in a way that shows respect” for what they experienced.
Any victim or witness to a hate incident or crime in California can report incidents online at CAvsHate.org, by calling (833) 866-4283 or 833-8-NO-HATE; Monday through Friday from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Outside of those hours, people can call the 211 hotline for support in more than 200 languages.
L.A. County has a confidential hotline — 211 — where people can report hate crimes and incidents, find resources and support. Those in Orange County can report online or through the county’s confidential hotline, 714-480-6580.
Staff writer Allyson Vergara and City News Service contributed to this report.