Why we cover hate crimes

Gabriel Kahn
Jul 7, 2019 · 3 min read

Since Jan. 1, 2019, Crosstown has been documenting every hate crime that is reported by the Los Angeles Police Department. We do this by crawling the police database and identifying each incident that contains the department’s code for a hate crime — 0903. (As of this writing, there have been 105 counted during the first 138 days of the year.)

The data is sometimes sparse and inconclusive. Frequently, it isn’t detailed enough to help us understand exactly why it was even classified as a hate crime. On March 24, someone vandalized a dental care office in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The police listed it as a hate crime. But we don’t know why. Was the vandalism a case of graffiti with hate-laced language? Did it damage a religious symbol? The police data leaves those details out.

As our reporter on this beat, Joshua Chang, can attest, scraping together additional facts is an arduous process. According to Josh: “The reports only show a glimpse of what happened. We have to be in constant correspondence with the LAPD to find out further detail of these crimes — accuracy, context and methodology. “

So why cover it?

We don’t see hate crime as a story that is told through a single event. Rather, we’re trying to tell a story that emerges over time in Los Angeles, a story of how intolerance can wax or wane and how that intersects with the broader drama of our age.

Hate crimes account for a fraction of one percent of all crimes recorded in the city. Still, in 2018 there were 286 reports of hate crimes in the City of Los Angeles, more than any year since the city began making its data publicly available. Reports were up in New York and other cities as well. Across the country, reports of hate crimes have been rising steadily since 2015, coinciding with one of the most racially-charged national political campaigns this country has seen in decades.

Horrific, lethal, hate-motivated attacks have seared our memory recently, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and with the killing of Vickie Jones and Maurice Stallard, both African Americans, in a supermarket parking lot in Jeffersontown, KY.

Next to these tragedies, some of the hate crimes we report in Los Angeles might appear trivial. On April 11, for example, a victim was mugged on the sidewalk by an assailant who shouted racial slurs. But we’re measuring the cadence of these incidents, not just their severity.

It’s clear the topic is raw. When we created a community survey to gauge interest in our hate crimes coverage and asked people to respond on Facebook, we received comments from accounts labeled “Hitlers [sic] bunker” and others insisting (with no evidence, of course) that “98% of hate crimes are hoaxes.”

The frequency with which hate crimes are catalogued in this city is a barometer of intolerance, a reading of how common it is for prejudice to spill into the open.

The vibrant diversity of Los Angeles, and its strategic position as a gateway to cultures from Latin America and Asia, places the city in the vanguard of a changing United States. Understanding how hate crime unfolds in Los Angeles brings us closer, for better or worse, to the rough texture of our nation.

Crosstown LA

Crosstown Data-Driven Stories About Los Angeles. Our site, xtown.la, is a non-profit news organization run out of USC Annenberg. In this publication we discuss our process, our products and our approach to building a new type of local news organization.

Gabriel Kahn

Written by

Crosstown LA

Crosstown Data-Driven Stories About Los Angeles. Our site, xtown.la, is a non-profit news organization run out of USC Annenberg. In this publication we discuss our process, our products and our approach to building a new type of local news organization.

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