WRITTEN BY MCKENZIE JACKSON | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA
Officials and advocates across California are pouring resources into pointing out that racism and racial intolerance impact public health -- major factors, they say, behind the substantial increase in hate crimes and hate incidents in the Golden State. In Stop the Hate, a 2021 report focused on hate crimes in Los Angeles County researchers reached several revealing conclusions that line up with trends reported across the state.
Among the findings that stood out in the LA County report were: Black Californians are still most impacted by hate crimes; hate crimes are significantly underreported to law enforcement (by as much 50 %); and they violate human rights as defined by 177 nations around the world in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Although African Americans in Los Angeles County make up only 9% of the population, they accounted for 46 % of the victims of hate crimes in 2021, according to the Stop the Hate Report.
Statewide in 2021, Black Californians accounted for a disproportionate 44% of the victims of documented hate crimes although African Americans make up about 6% of the state’s population, according to statistics released by the California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office in June.
The Los Angeles County study was spearheaded by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Rights and research for it was conducted in an area encompassing Central and South Los Angeles, neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley, West Hollywood and Hollywood.
In nearby Orange County (OC), officials there joined a growing chorus of other Golden State cities and counties that have declared racism a public health crisis.
At their Dec. 6 public meeting, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved “A Resolution of The Board of Supervisors of the County of Orange Declaring Racism and Inequity as a Public Health Crisis.”
The resolution is based on the premise that systemic racism causes persistent discriminatory policies and evidence cited in numerous studies linking racism to negative health outcomes. In it, the OC Board of Supervisors vowed to promote an inclusive and racial equity justice-oriented governmental organization that is aware of “unfairness through robust trainings and continuing education to expand the understanding of how racial discrimination affects individuals and communities most impacted by inequities.”
Orange County Human Relations Council Director of Operations Don Han applauded the Southern California county board’s move.
“This signified that we are serious about stopping hate,” said Han, whose nonprofit is geared toward combatting discrimination in the Southern California county. “That is our goal.”
Han said there is evidence that systematic racism has existed in Orange County -- which is 70 % White — like most of the U.S., for generations.
Within the last two years, the cities of Coachella, Goleta, Long Beach, and Los Angeles and counties such as Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, and Santa Barbara passed resolutions categorizing racism as a public health distress.
The Oakland City Council deemed racism a public health crisis in June and promised to work to advance racial equity. At the time, Seema Rupani of the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, said the government had a responsibility to address the health problem racism has caused.
“Structural racism has existed for centuries, and it has always impacted communities of color here, but during the pandemic the inequities became more pronounced,” she said. “They were growing. They were becoming more exposed particularly with COVID and housing and homelessness and economic disparities and there was just a responsibility to acknowledge what was happening and to take steps to address it.”
Oakland’s resolution directed $350,000 in the city budget for data analyst and consulting services to aid the city and its department of race and equity to enhance “improvements in systems for collection and processing data to track performance and equity progress,” reads the council’s resolution.
The OC supervisors did not attach a dollar amount to what the county will do to combat discrimination but indicated they will support diversity and inclusion as a core component to the delivery of health and human services for underserved populations, including appropriate allocation of resource to personnel training and public education.
Over 200 governmental bodies in 37 states have passed declarations concerning racism's impact on public health.
U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called racism a public health danger in 2021.
She pointed to how the pandemic impacted communities of color in terms of case numbers, deaths, and social consequences.
“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walensky said. "Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community.”
In Orange County, hate crimes and related incidents were up 165 percent in 2021 compared to five years ago, according to OC Human Relations Council’s “2021 Orange County Hate Crimes Report.”
Black people were the target of 24 reported hate incidents and 16 hate crimes in 2021, while there were 153 hate incidents and 10 hate crimes committed against Asian/Pacific Islanders.
Han touched on how systematic racism can be traced back to slavery -- citing, for example, the U.S. Government never honoring Union General William T. Sherman’s promise to grant formerly enslaved Black people land they after they were freed. He added that people who do not understand history fear what the OC resolution could mean legally.
“There are a number of folks who have a lack of knowledge on this, and they lash out,” Han said. “But they don’t represent a majority of the county. The resolution signified that we are serious about stopping hate. We are seeing a shining light at the end of the tunnel.”