Women held signs at a prayer vigil, condemning white supremacy and Asian racism. Photo by Chris Stone
Women held signs at a prayer vigil condemning white supremacy and anti-Asian racism in March 2021. Photo by Chris Stone

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, data just released by the San Diego County District Attorney‘s office shows a “very troubling” increase in crimes of hate based on race.

For 2021, it is “statistically significant,” said prosecutor Leonard Trinh of the DA’s special operations division.

“It is more race-based than in the past,” he said in an interview on Tuesday, adding that he had never seen this sort of shift in numbers before.​  It is such a change, he said, that ​“we may have to throw out old rules” for tracking and reporting on hate crimes.

The number of hate cases are up from 2020, the first year of the pandemic, when such crimes were considerably lower, although they began picking up toward the end of that year. 

The ​current figures​ ​are similar to the period for 2018-2019, except for the major shift to race being the primary motivation for crimes​.  Here is what the figures for 2021 look like:

​What issue motivated the hate crime?

  • 83% race
  • 10% religion
  • 3% sexual orientation based
  • 3% gender based

What race was the target of the hate crime?​

  • 44% Black
  • 20% Hispanic
  • 12% Asian
  •  8% White
  •  4% Arab

The data is based on 30 cases prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.

The pandemic has played an obvious role, as there were no hate crimes against Asians in the period 2017 to 2019, the first one occuring in 2020. Currently they account for 12% of race-based hate crime targets, the DA’s office found.​ ​

The ​last presidential election and​ ​George Floyd’s death also continue to drive hate crimes, Trinh believes. In the past, off-year elections ​like the one later this year didn’t result in any jump in hate crimes, but 2022 may be different, the prosecutor ​suggests.

While the sample size is small compared to the state overall, Trinh said he anticipates dramatic changes will be seen across California from statistics gathered by prosecutors and police agencies. These figures will be released in July or August, he said.  

The same pattern is likely to be seen later when the FBI releases its data  from across America this fall, Trinh added.

In his fifth year as the lead prosecutor for hate crimes in the district attorney’s office, Trinh is concerned by the increasingly aggressive and forceful confrontations online and in person between white supremacists and citizens in the community. 

Those who identify, track and oppose hate crimes like the San Diego Regional Hate Crimes Coalition say hate speech leads to hate crimes. Emboldened racists find growing support for bullying on the internet and in public gatherings, which is what concerns Trinh about what the immediate future holds.

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.