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After Increase In White Supremacist Incidents, LA County Turns To Hate Hotline


The largest county in the nation is using a public hotline to learn more about hate in the community. Los Angeles wants a better understanding of where hate crimes are happening and how they are impacting residents. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Typically, when you call 211, it's for access to food, mental and physical health resources. But now it's also a hotline to report hate.

ROBIN TOMA: We're in a period where we have seen a rather extraordinary continual rise in reports of hate.

FADEL: That's Robin Toma, the executive director of LA County's Commission on Human Relations. Last year, there was a 38% increase in white supremacist incidents in Los Angeles according to a report from Toma's commission. And just like the country, hate crimes reached the highest levels in over a decade. Already this year, calls to the hotline, Toma says, show an alarming number of racist attacks on Asian Americans scapegoated for this pandemic. And he's seen the impact of dog whistles and anti-immigrant rhetoric out of D.C. on communities of color.

TOMA: We have, you know, actual cases that have come to us which have really illustrated the harm that is happening - even people trying to access COVID-related services, emergency food and being subjected to anti-immigrant tirades and violent assault because they're perceived as being immigrants that shouldn't be accessing these services.

FADEL: In part, the hotline's about giving people the help they need. But it's also about filling out incomplete data. Hate crimes and incidents of hate are woefully underreported. The Justice Department's annual Crime Victimization Survey says there are at least twice as many hate crimes as reported to the FBI each year. In part, that's because in some places, police departments don't report hate crimes at all. Some states still have no hate crime laws on the books. But also...

TOMA: Many hate crime victims don't want to report to the police for a variety of reasons. And among those reasons are distrust of police, fear of being exposed - a lot of crime information is made public - language barriers. So it's particularly important to have an alternative.

FADEL: That's 211. Right now, it's small. There are only two care coordinators. And by the end of this year, the county will have spent nearly $750,000 on the program. Sophie Cuevas is one of the two care coordinators.

SOPHIE CUEVAS: Some areas are more impacted than others by a certain type of racism, or it's based on disability or gender or sexual orientation. And so we need that information so we can help identify what type of resource or services are needed in a particular area. And without having those reports, we won't know that that's what's needed out there.

FADEL: It gives the county a real-time picture of hate that helps them allocate scarce resources and decide what community groups to partner with.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.