The nation recently has seen a growing trend in hate crimes against Asian communities, but Long Beach recorded zero such incidents over the last year, despite increasing amounts of anti-Asian violence in nearby cities.
Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021, a total of 19 hate crimes were reported in Long Beach and none of them fell under the category of anti-Asian, according to police data obtained by the Long Beach Post through a public records request.
In a sharp contrast, the city of Los Angeles saw a 114% increase last year in hate crimes against Asian Americans and other members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, according to an LA Police Commission report released this month, the Los Angeles Times reported.
It’s not entirely clear what’s driving that disparity, but experts, city leaders and members of the Asian community suspect the aberration in Long Beach’s statistics comes from underreporting.
In fact, Long Beach politicians are worried specifically about rising violence against Asian Americans, and that anxiety was heightened Tuesday night when a gunman killed eight people, including six of Asian descent, during a shooting spree at several Atlanta-area spas.
Although authorities say the gunman—now in custody—denies the killings were racially motivated, the shooting has become a high-profile example of the intensifying violence, hate and anxiety many members of the Asian American community say they’re experiencing.
By coincidence, on the same night as the shooting, the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to prepare a resolution condemning hate incidents, xenophobic rhetoric and harassment against Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and ensuring that they feel safe during and beyond the pandemic.
Some have blamed the rise in hate crimes against Asian communities on negative associations between Asians and the coronavirus, which first appeared in China. They say prominent figures like former President Donald Trump have stoked those racist associations by repeatedly referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” or “kung flu.”
During the pandemic, Mariko Kahn, executive director of Pacific Asian Counseling Services, a nonprofit in Long Beach that serves people with severe mental illness, said that her team has noticed that her clients, especially from the Cambodian community, are experiencing more anxiety.
“When you’re afraid to go out, you’re not getting medical attention,” she said.
Councilwoman Suely Saro, who is of Cambodian descent and conceived of Tuesday night’s resolutions, said that while she hasn’t personally experienced any hate crime incidents, some people have shared that they’ve heard racial slurs.
Saro said that this resolution serves as validation of these types of experiences.
“I wanted to make sure that the community was seen,” she said.
What qualifies as a hate crime?
Hate crimes hinge on motive.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
According to the Long Beach Police Department, hate crimes are categorized based on the suspect’s perceived or actual characteristics of the victim, such as by disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Out of the 18 hate crimes reported to Long Beach police in 2020, the vast majority were racially motivated—with only two targeting people for their sexual identity and one anti-Islamic incident. Of the crimes reported, the most common bias was anti-White, with nine incidents—followed by anti-Black, with five incidents.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and criminal justice professor at Cal State San Bernardino, said that Long Beach actually has better methods of tracking hate crimes compared some to other large cities.
In 2016, 88% of law enforcement agencies either did not report or reported zero hate crimes to the FBI, Levin said.
“Long Beach is in no way the worst,” he said.
But he says underreporting hate crimes still happens. He’s particularly concerned about immigrant communities that may have language barriers or cultural stigma or misunderstanding about what constitutes a hate crime.
Overall, he thinks that all hate crime reporting across the nation could see improvements.
Since Tuesday night, the police department has been reaching out to the city’s local Asian community to provide information about reporting criminal activity and to share resources available to victims, LBPD spokesperson Allison Gallagher said in an email. The LBPD is also working on updating and translating the resources list into other languages, Gallagher added.
Councilwoman Saro said that she also plans to do the same type of outreach. Her office will host a vigil on Friday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at MacArthur Park (1321 E. Anaheim St.) in Central Long Beach to mourn the victims of violent hate crimes.
Kahn said Long Beach’s resolution is a good start. She sees it as a way to uplift Asian communities, who are often brought up in a culture of not speaking out enough.
This past year, she said, has taught her and her peers the importance of mobilizing and raising awareness of hate crimes in their community, which, according to Kahn, has lacked significant media attention until now.
“This year has taught us that being quiet does not get us anywhere,” she said.
To report a hate crime, police encourage calling them at 562-435-6711 or 911 for emergencies, or contact local organizations listed here.
Stephanie Rivera contributed to this report.