Hate Crimes Still at Alarming Levels

Reported racial hate crimes in the County disproportionately targeted African Americans, who represent only about 9% of County residents but were 46% of the victims of racial hate crime. All data and graphics courtesy of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations’ 2016 Hate Crime Report.

Hate crimes remain at elevated levels in Los Angeles County, based on a recently released report from the County Commission on Human Relations.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed concern over the 2016 Hate Crime Report, which documented 482 hate crime victims. The number is only one fewer than in 2015, when hate crimes surged 24 percent over the year before, and represented the highest total since 2011.

“The report reminds us that criminal activity motivated by bias and hate have not abated in the last year,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “The crimes described in this report are pernicious and despicable actions intended to strip away each victim’s sense of dignity, safety and belonging.”

“The report shows targeted populations span the breadth and diversity of our county, proving that hate crimes affect not only communities of color, LGBT communities, or communities of faith,” he added. “In truth, anyone can be victimized.”

The Commission’s executive director, Robin Toma, said, “We are extremely concerned that reported hate crimes remained at an elevated level in 2016, and major cities across the country, including the city of Los Angeles, have already reported increases in hate crime during the first half of 2017.”

Significant findings include:

  • 81% of homophobic crimes were of a violent nature. There were 31 anti-transgender hate crimes, a 72% increase; 97% of them were violent.

    For the first time in many years, gay men, lesbians and LGBT organizations comprise the group most frequently targeted for hate crime reported in the county, surpassing anti-African American hate crimes. There were 118 crimes based on sexual orientation in 2016, comprising nearly one-quarter of all hate crimes, and the rate of violence was high – 81 percent – including the murder of a gay man by his own father. Of transgender hate crimes, 97 percent were of a violent nature, the highest of any major victim group.

  • Hate crimes in which there was evidence of white supremacist ideology grew 67 percent, from 63 to 105, mostly acts of vandalism in which swastikas or other hate symbols were used. This constituted 22 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2016, up from 13 percent in the previous year.
  • Anti-black hate crimes declined 19 percent from 139 to 112, partly due to a reduction in hate crimes by Latino gang members that targeted African Americans. Nonetheless, reported hate crimes in the county disproportionately targeted African Americans, who represent only about 9 percent of county residents but represented almost half of victims of racial hate crimes.

  • Anti-Latino crimes increased slightly in 2016, from 61 to 62, three quarters of which were violent.
  • Anti-white crimes jumped from 11 to 27, a 145-percent rise. White comprised 11 percent of racial hate crime victims, but represent about 27 percent of the county population.
  • There were 101 religious hate crimes in 2016, with two-thirds targeting the Jewish community.
  • During the post-2016 presidential election period, hate crimes increased 9 percent, from 75 to 82. It is important to note that those 75 crimes in 2015 represented a sharp 47 percent rise from the previous year, due in part to about a dozen anti-Muslim/Middle Eastern crimes following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

The Commission has produced an annual Hate Crime Report since 1980, making it one of the longest running reports of its kind in the nation. The majority of the data is derived from law enforcement agencies. Given the well-documented problem of underreporting, however, the Commission also collects information from school districts and universities, community-based organizations and directly from victims.

“The fact that white supremacist crimes grew 67 percent is alarming, particularly in the aftermath of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville,” Commission President Isabelle Gunning said. “It seems that organized hate groups everywhere are feeling emboldened and increasingly visible.”

Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas called for more unity and inclusiveness, as well as taking action to address hate crimes. “We are all collectively responsible for identifying and reporting threats that could lead to hate crimes, as well as making concerted efforts to provide welcoming and safe environments for all County residents,” he said.

Sweeping Advances to Keep Youth
Out of the Justice System

In a historic move, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a roadmap for diverting thousands of youth from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and for connecting them to a comprehensive array of supportive services – education, employment, housing, healthcare and more – to help them thrive.

Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Diandra Jay, Board of Supervisors

“Giving youth access to supportive services as an alternative to arrest and incarceration is both morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion. “We need to manage our resources smartly, and be more humane and less militaristic in dealing with young people so they can lead better lives and be an asset to their communities.”

“The best juvenile system is one that keeps kids out of it in the first place,” added the motion’s coauthor, Supervisor Janice Hahn. “With the action we are taking today, our County departments are going to better work together to keep children out of court and in school.”

Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, a nonprofit that works extensively with youth in the juvenile justice system, expressed “enthusiastic support” for the motion. He said, “We know that punishment doesn’t work when it comes to helping young people who are struggling, as health conditions – many rooted in childhood trauma – are often at the root of the behavior that leads them to the justice system in the first place.”

The Board voted to accept the recommendations and strategies of A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in Los Angeles County developed by its Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee. It also called for creating a Youth Diversion and Development division within the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR).

“Since its creation two years ago, the ODR has successfully diverted more than 1,300 adults from the County’s jails,” noted Judge Peter Espinoza (Ret.), director of the ODR. “What has been missing from this work has been a dedicated effort to keep young people out of the justice system. By launching this youth diversion and development work at ODR, the County is poised to offer a continuum of supportive services to the entire community and further reduce arrests and incarceration.”

Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas underscored the achievement by adding, “By launching this work, Los Angeles County can and will lead the nation in promoting youth wellbeing, addressing racial disparities, and embracing cost-effective approaches.”

L-R: Office of Child Protection Director, Judge Michael Nash (Ret.); Office of Diversion and Reentry Director, Judge Peter Espinoza (Ret.); The California Endowment President and CEO Dr. Robert Ross; and LA County Assistant CEO Fesia Davenport, testifying in support of the  motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Health Equity Versus Social Equity
in the Age of (Recreational) Cannabis

The Los Angeles County Office of Cannabis Management holds a Community Listening Session in West Athens/Vermont — Chester Washington Golf Course on July 20, 2017

Op-Ed

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

As California prepares to kick off the nation’s largest legal commerce in marijuana, it’s easy to salivate over the multibillion-dollar bonanza this could bring to the state and local economy, and to believe the hype that this wealth can reverse some of the damage wrought over decades by the war on drugs.

But when Los Angeles County’s Office of Cannabis Management held a series of “listening sessions” to seek public input on potential regulations, the question that cropped up again and again was how this might affect various communities, especially the youth.

It was particularly poignant when asked by parents in neighborhoods already contending with a glut of marijuana dispensaries and stores selling alcohol and tobacco – all dependency-inducing products.

They worried that marijuana, while intended for adult use, could still affect the health of their children. This was not only because youth are particularly vulnerable to recreational marijuana’s psychoactive substances but because their neighborhoods – typically low-income communities of color – tend to be medically underserved and already beset with higher than average rates of substance abuse disorders and other maladies.

In large swaths of South and Southeast LA, for example, the life expectancy rates ranged from 75.8 years to 80.6 years, or as many as 14 years shorter than those in Malibu and Beverly Hills, based on a recent study that starkly illustrates the health inequity among different communities in the county.

The same study added that health disparities are caused by a host of factors, including limited access to affordable and quality medical care, healthy food, clean air, good schools, jobs that reduce the stress of economic uncertainty, and safe neighborhoods where families and communities can thrive.

Health equity is an essential characteristic of a society that values the wellbeing of every one of its members. In creating the first-ever regulations for marijuana commerce within the county’s unincorporated areas, the Board of Supervisors has an obligation to avoid exacerbating health disparities, and an opportunity to reverse them.

It is imperative that we emphasize health equity in marijuana commerce, and wield regulations in business licensing, monitoring and enforcement so that health disparities can be eliminated or minimized. It would be similar to requiring that real estate developers mitigate their project’s impact on traffic in surrounding neighborhoods as a condition of getting the green light to get their shovels ready.

A lot of attention has been paid to so-called social equity programs that would, in a sense, indemnify people who had suffered disproportionately from the war on drugs by giving them a better chance than others to profit from retail sales of marijuana.

But how can social equity be attained when the focus is narrowly on leveling the playing field of economic opportunity, and no attempt is made to address any other social ills facilitated by manifold addictions and exacerbated by the war on drugs? This crude attempt at social engineering can only be expected to fall short.

When evaluating a prospective retailer of marijuana, it makes sense to check whether factors that lead to health disparities are already particularly pronounced in the community where this business wants to operate, and then to assess whether marijuana commerce in that community would lead to unintended consequences. It is critical that regulations lead to responsible and conscientious businesses that will make a positive contribution to the health and wellbeing of their neighbors.

Creating programs that nurture our youth is always a good idea, but even more so now, amid widespread concerns about pot shops becoming more prevalent. We should also look into bolstering programs to prevent drug use and treat substance abuse disorders.

The newly created Center for Health Equity at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is on a mission to ensure that all communities have equitable access to services and programs so that everyone can achieve their highest levels of wellbeing. It can be a powerful ally in helping to close or narrow health disparities created by marijuana commerce.

The historic shift from prohibition to licensing has tossed Los Angeles County – and indeed the rest the state and the nation – into uncharted waters. Still, it’s obvious that crafting responsible and reasonable regulations is not merely a matter of economics. We must ensure that our most vulnerable communities, many of which have already endured a legacy of neglect and exploitation, are not further harmed by the legalization of recreational marijuana or even the commercialization of cannabis.

The Los Angeles County Office of Cannabis Management holds a Community Listening Session at the Lennox Library on July 22, 2017.

 

Probation Reform: Oversight and Accountability

Determined to transform the deeply troubled Probation Department, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to consider an independent entity that would consolidate the various reforms recommended over the years and propose a roadmap for finally implementing those changes, with oversight and accountability.

“The reform efforts already underway are promising but fragmented,” said Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion. “We need a singular vision and a comprehensive approach that will leave no stone unturned in addressing, once and for all, the deeply entrenched and systemic problems plaguing the nation’s largest Probation Department.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. All photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“The need for reform and accountability is underscored by troubling events over the past several weeks, including the sentencing of a Probation officer who sexually assaulted girls as young as 15 at Camp Scudder, and the discovery that youth are still subjected to solitary confinement at Central Juvenile Hall more than a year after the Board banned that practice,” he added.

The motion called for analyzing whether the existing Probation Commission can be strengthened and repurposed to serve as that independent entity. If not, the Board would consider creating one.

The Office of Inspector General, which already provides oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, may see its scope expanded to include the Probation Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl had sought that amendment to the motion.

The motion’s coauthor, Supervisor Janice Hahn, said, “This is the time to move forward and bring together everybody’s past, present and future wishes and dreams and visions for the kind of Probation Department that LA County warrants, one that will have real accountability and reform as we move forward.”

“There have been numerous and sometimes duplicative efforts to examine the Department over the past couple of years, and I think the time has come for us to stop doing that,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “There’s a lot of data, research, interviews, analysis, legal opinion and more that is ready at our fingertips. Having transparency is key, as is having a roadmap moving forward.”

A diverse group of stakeholders provided testimony in support of the motion, including representatives of State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as a range of criminal justice reform advocates.

Cyn Yamashiro, Probation Commissioner & Directing Attorney for LACBA, testifies before the board.

LA County Bar Association Independent Juvenile Defender Office director Cyn Yamashiro was one of four Probation Commissioners who spoke in favor of the motion. He noted that after decades of efforts to reform Probation, “we are still in what I would almost describe as a crisis.” He likened Probation to a ship with competent captains hoisting its sails but hampered by a number of problematic crewmembers below deck, adding, “I think oversight will be akin to a tugboat to get the ship going where it needs to be going.”

Jose Osuna testified that he is a former probationer who works with current probationers as external affairs director of Homeboy Industries. “I come to you with 30 years of frustration (with the department) but I do favor this motion because I think any step in the right direction is a good thing, and I think this is a strong step. I think we need to find a way to tie all these (reform) efforts that we’ve undertaken and spent so much taxpayer money on, so that these efforts don’t go to waste.”

Urban Peace Institute criminal justice program manager Josh Green said the motion “represents an opportunity to create the lasting vision and oversight that are essential to transforming Probation.”

Reforming Probation

L-R: Community Coalition’s Patricia Guerra, Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover, Children’s Defense Fund’s Patricia Soung, and Homeboy Industries’ Ed Flynn, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion aimed at improving transparency and accountability at the troubled Probation Department, saying reform efforts over the years have yet to yield substantial results. A vote is expected on October 17.

Co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion calls for creating a task force and/or enhancing the existing Probation Commission to synthesize the many existing recommendations for reform, develop a plan for implementing them, and submit it to the Board for approval.

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“Current efforts are fragmented, which could lead to inconsistencies,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “We need a singular vision and a clear roadmap for reforming Probation, which has struggled for decades with excessive use of force by staff, mismanagement of funds, and a range of other issues.”

Supervisor Hahn added, “I look forward to moving ahead to create a Probation Department that professionally and compassionately leads our citizens towards productive lives in our communities.”

Several members of the public testified in support of the motion, including Probation Commissioner and retired Superior Court Judge Jan Levine. “Current reform efforts are important and laudable, but insufficient,” she said. “There must be continuous outside oversight of the Department by an independent body to ensure transparency, updating of policies, ongoing review of budgets and spending, continued tracking of outcomes, and the creation of a forum for families and other stakeholders to participate in an ongoing two-way exchange of information about policies and practices.”

“These are critical measures if we are to inspire trust as well as to be effective in efforts to actually help the individuals entrusted to the Probation system,” she added.

CalState LA Associate Dean Denise Hertz, one of the researchers called upon over the years to assess systemic problems at Probation and recommend changes, said, “This motion offers a tremendous opportunity to build a collaborative foundation from which best practices can be identified and implemented.”

Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover lauded the Board’s appointment of Probation Chief Terri McDonald and Deputy Chief Sheila Mitchell. Still, he added, “It’s clear to me that they need more wind at their back. They need the support of oversight to be able to truly transform the department. We’re not interested in reform; we’re interested in a transformation.”

A New Way of Life’s Tiffany Johnson, Urban Peace Institute’s Josh Green, and Californians for Safety and Justice’s Marisa Arona, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.