After a spike in 2018, hate crimes reported in Long Beach declined or were almost flat for the past few years. But new data from the Long Beach Police Department shows the number is rising again and has already surpassed last year’s total.

While limited national data is available for the first half of 2023, Long Beach’s year-over-year increase “kind of bucks the trend” seen in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, which are down compared with the same period of 2022, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

And it could get worse, if past statistics bear out. Levin said hate crimes are often tied to major events, such as a presidential election or the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, but they can also be seasonal – in the last 30 years, nearly all of the months with the most reported hate crimes were in the second half of the year.

According to the latest Long Beach data, after 12 reported hate crimes in 2021 and 13 in 2022, this year’s total was 16 reported hate crimes as of June 30. (Since 2000, the peak was 41 reported hate crimes in 2002; the nadir was four hate crimes in 2012.)

“We are actively investigating these incidents and wouldn’t speculate on why there is an increase,” the statement from Public Information Officer Alyssa Baeza said.

“Our priority is community safety, and we accomplish that through building trust and strong relationships within our community. We also coordinate with the City Human Dignity Coordinator to ensure that victims are offered services and supportive care.”

Not every instance of bigotry is a crime – for example, using racial slurs toward someone – and Long Beach’s statistics don’t capture those incidents, but they do include reports of vandalism, battery, assault with a deadly weapon and other penal code violations.

Out of 39 hate crime incidents reported in Long Beach the past two and a half years, the most frequently targeted groups were LGBT people (13 incidents) and Black people (11 incidents), according to city data.

Local advocates for the city’s Black and gay communities said they’re concerned by the increase in hate crimes, but it doesn’t seem out of the blue.

Cesar McDowell, founder of Long Beach nonprofit Unite the People, said he’s not surprised at the increase in hate crimes against Black people in Long Beach, and he traces it back to Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016.

While he believes Trump’s presidency, and the rhetoric that accompanied it, emboldened people with racist attitudes, he also thinks there’s another layer to the issue in Long Beach.

“If you’ve been paying attention to the media, for the past few years there has been a race situation happening between Hispanics and Blacks. So Black people get it both ways,” McDowell said.

For LGBT residents, Long Beach has been an accepting place that feels somewhat insulated from the bigotry seen in other communities, Long Beach Pride Co-president Elsa Martinez said, but she and other organizers are talking with Long Beach police about safety as they plan for a parade and festival the weekend of Aug. 4.

Carlos Torres, executive director of the LGBTQ Center Long Beach, said it’s likely hate crimes are actually underreported for reasons including distrust of law enforcement, concerns about immigration status and fear of not being believed.

While the bigger number of hate crimes this year is scary, Torres said, it’s also encouraging because it suggests more people are coming forward and police are taking their reports seriously.

Levin at Cal State San Bernardino said for Long Beach and nationally, he’s concerned about the rest of 2023 and also 2024, since incidents of bigotry tend to increase in election years along with political conflict. (Statewide, hate crime reports were up more than 20% last year compared with 2021, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta.)

“When you smell the smoke of hate, there’s a fire somewhere going on,” Levin said.

“There’s a correlation between aggression, whether it’s invective or in politics, that translates to broken bones on the street.”

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