S.J.: Attorney General Rob Bonta joins San Jose leaders to discuss and combat rising level of hate crimes

General Attorney Rob Bonta made a stop in San Jose on Nov. 10 as part of his tour through the state’s 13 largest cities to better understand and combat California’s growing number of hate crimes. 

From 2019 to 2020, hate crimes across the state increased by 31 percent and in San Jose they grew by 169 percent — fairing worse than many of the major cities, Bonta said. 

The recently appointed attorney general met with several community members in San Jose who represented different racial, religious, ethnic and other historically marginalized and underrepresented groups in the region. 

It was a roundtable that allowed different voices to come together and brainstorm various ways to combat that growing number. 

“I wanted to come here to listen to learn,” Bonta told press gathered outside of Seven Trees Community Center. “And I’m going to use the full authority, influence and power of this office, to fight back against the forces of hate and keep Californians safe from being targeted.” 

In San Jose, the largest increase of hate crimes reported were based on race. In 2019, 13 of the 33 hate crimes reported were race-based. In 2020, 71 of the 107 hate crimes reported were because of race, according to data gathered by San Jose Police. 

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation ranked second, with nine reported in 2020 and religion-based hate crimes followed with eight incidents reported. 

San Jose also comprised most of the hate crimes reported in Santa Clara County. In 2020, there were 93 hate crimes reported based on race, ethnicity and ancestry. 

Of the 120 total crimes reported in the county, 78 percent were violent crimes, according to data from the California Department of Justice. 

The most frequent violent hate crime was intimidation with simple assault, aggravated assault and robbery following in suit, in that order, data reveled. 

Throughout the state, the largest rise of hate crimes was against the Asian population which saw a 100 percent spike in 2020, Bonta said. 

He continued that the rise of hate was largely because of leaders like former President Donald Trump whose hateful, racist and xenophobic rhetoric empowered many to act on those harmful beliefs.

As the chief law officer of the state, Bonta also said that law enforcement was partially to blame as well. 

He said the residents’ lack of trust in law enforcement agencies meant that many hate crimes went unreported because many feared that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. And for those who did report hate crimes were sometimes dismissed or not filed as such by local law enforcement. 

“We have our work to do in law enforcement to earn more trust with communities and unfortunately, because of that lack of trust, there is a hesitancy and a reluctance at times to come forward and report,” Bonta said. 

Sameena Usman, the government relations coordinator with the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, was one of the 17 people who sat at the Nov. 10 roundtable and echoed that sentiment. 

She brought up the 2020 SJPD scandal where several officers were outed for posting racist, Islamophobic and other derogatory remarks on Facebook. 

“When you see incidents of hate speech within our police forces, such as the San Jose scandal, how do you trust law enforcement to report it to them when they … themselves … hold the same hateful views?” Usman said. 

She also noted that the police use of force during the 2020 George Floyd protests also drew a deeper wedge between police and residents. 

But she was hopeful after leaving the roundtable. 

“The overwhelming theme in the room was about solidarity with other communities,” she said. “And I’m thankful that this attorney general is taking this seriously, trying to find creative ways and reaching out to different community groups and organizations and people on the ground who are experiencing hate.”

Bonta said one of the concrete ideas born out of the meeting on Nov. 10 was to have community groups, like CAIR or Asian Americans for Community Involvement, act as the conduit for reporting. 

“Community based organizations who have built trust and earned the trust of the communities that they serve need to be on the front end,” Bonta said. “Having a more trusted reporting pipeline and systems (will allow) folks who may fear retaliation for different reasons or feel that they will be victimized once again, after being the victim of a hate crime (to) come forward and (feel) confident that something will be done.”

Sarita Kohli, president and CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement also said allowing victims of hate crimes speak up about their experiences is also a form of healing. 

“We have been through this epidemic of anti-Asian hate for the last year and a half here,” Kohli said. “And what we have seen has really worked for people to feel empowered, is to come forward to talk about what has happened with them, to encourage their friends and families and community members to do the same.”

Bonta and Kohli also pointed to education and early intervention in schools or other community settings as a means of reducing hate crimes, so that hate does not eventually become a hate crime. 

“As feelings of hate turned to hate speech turned to hate incidents on the way to become in hate crimes, there are many places in between where we can intervene and prevent hate from getting to that place,” the attorney general said. 

Other solutions that came out of the San Jose roundtable were to have more dialogues like this one between community, local and state leaders and law enforcement. 

Bonta also said changing state laws to prioritize hate crime prosecutions could also be a means of reducing hate crimes. 

The roundtable discussions are a part of Bonta’s recently launched Office of Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement (CARE) within the California Department of Justice announced earlier this summer. 

Part of CARE is to develop those relationships with community groups and foster an environment of safety and trust within different groups and with people in power. 

Since its launch, Bonta requested that all district attorneys launch hate crime units. His office also issued guidance to law enforcement partners across the state regarding how to better identify and investigate hate crimes — an especially important point, Bonta said, because more than 50 percent of hate crimes across the state are not investigated or identified as such. 

And in the end, the message from Bonta, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and other local leaders was clear: hate does not belong in San Jose, “not here, not anywhere, not now and not ever,” Bonta said. 

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