Gay rights advocate Vin Testa in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday. Justices issued two major rulings on gay marriage cases. (Associated Press)

 

Last August, a black man and his Latino boyfriend were holding hands while walking in West Los Angeles when suspects in a passing car shouted a homophobic slur at them, made a U-turn and assaulted them with a switchblade.

In November, a lesbian couple emerged from their apartment in Pacific Palisades to find a homophobic slur smeared in feces on a door of their car. Previously, a bag of dog feces was left on their porch with a note that included the same slur.

The incidents, documented in a recently released annual report by the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, paint a portrait of hate crimes in the region over the last year, including the Westside.

There were 26 hate crimes recorded in 2014 in the county’s West district, which has a population of roughly 660,000 and which includes Santa Monica as well as Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Playa del Rey, Venice, Marina del Rey, Westchester, Culver City and Beverly Hills. That amounts to about 3.9 hate crimes per 100,000 residents last year, the same rate reported for the area in 2013.

Hate crime statistics in the West district incorporate data from the Santa Monica Police Department, according to the report, but detailed local numbers were not immediately available. The report did not include incidents within the Santa Monica-Malibu school district.

“The occurrence of hate crimes, the possible causes for them and even the kinds of things communities can do in a positive way to mitigate or reduce those occurrences are all things we’re concerned about,” said Karen Gunn, chair of the Santa Monica Human Relations Council, an advisory group of community leaders and activists.

There were 389 hate crimes reported in the county in 2014, a slight increase over the 384 recorded in the previous year but still the second-lowest number in 25 years.

The number of hate crime victims in California dropped from 1,045 in 2013 to 943 last year, according to the state Office of the Attorney General.

But the commission’s report likely covers just a fraction of all hate crimes committed in the county over the last year.

“Under-reporting of hate crimes remains a serious problem,” commission president Susanne Cumming said in a release. “Although the statistics are encouraging, we have to remember that far too many hate crime victims suffer in silence and do not report these crimes to police.”

Reported hate crimes in the county have largely declined since spiking after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Gunn and other officials noted that hate crimes disproportionately affect certain populations, including black, Latino, Jewish, homosexual and transgender people. African-Americans, for example, represented more than two-thirds of all victims in reported racial hate crimes in the county in 2014.

“Even though there have been some changes,” Gunn said, “it’s interesting to see that the same groups continue to be targeted from one decade to the next.”

Added county official Cynthia Banks in a release: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday,’ the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. During the past half-century we have seen tremendous progress in human and civil rights, yet we still have residents of our county attacked on a daily basis because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, gender or disability. … The report is evidence that we still have much work to do to achieve a more just, equitable, and peaceful society.”

In Santa Monica, a major tourist destination, crime rates can seem high because the number of people within city limits regularly swells beyond the official population. There is also a substantial homeless population, which is harder to track.

But Santa Monica is certainly not immune to hate crimes, which are not always classified as such.

Last month, a Los Angeles man was arrested after allegedly punching a man in the face on a Santa Monica beach where the suspect had asked the victim and his friend about their sexual orientation.

This past spring, an SMMUSD middle school student was suspended after calling a cafeteria worker a racial slur, according to a quarterly district report on “hate-motivated behavior.”

In 2012 in Santa Monica, a transgender woman found that someone had scratched her car and broken her sideview mirror. The perpetrator left a threatening note laced with homophobic slurs.

The previous March, two white men beat a Latino man in the face and wrist with a baseball bat after calling him a racial epithet, according to the report.

“There are a lot of organizations that are trying to make inroads into preventing this by sponsoring community engagement activities and dialogue that help people cross cultural borders and understand each other and have empathy,” Gunn said.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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