Experts Aim To Explain Spike In L.A. Hate Crimes In 2007, the number of reported hate crimes in Los Angeles County jumped 28 percent. Some say this is partly due to the fact that more people now know what a hate crime is. Others say an increase in white supremacist groups and the Internet's ability to spread hateful messages and music have also contributed.
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Experts Aim To Explain Spike In L.A. Hate Crimes

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Experts Aim To Explain Spike In L.A. Hate Crimes

Experts Aim To Explain Spike In L.A. Hate Crimes

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. In Los Angeles County, hate crimes are increasing. Last year, they jumped 28 percent from the year before. That increase is striking because nationwide the incidents of hate crimes declined slightly. So, what makes southern California different? NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Carol Koransky's morning commute into the city involves winding through the back roads and canyons of the San Fernando Valley just to avoid the freeways. Her route takes her past the tawny stucco houses and manicured lawns of Tarzana. And then, one day back in January.

Ms. CAROL KORANSKY: Right where those boxes are right now...

TEMPLE-RASTON: A giant swastika.

Ms. KORANSKY: And I don't remember, I think this one was kill the Jews as opposed to (bleep) the Jews.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Swastikas and profanity were spray-painted along a two-mile stretch of road. Tarzana officials painted over the graffiti within hours, but so many people had seen it on their way to work, the story led the news for days.

Ms. KORANSKY: The reason it got the attention it did is, one, because it is fairly unusual. Two, because it was in multiple sites that sprung up overnight, and because it was very big, very visible and pretty hateful.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Police have no suspects in the case. Tarzana isn't alone. Hate crimes are up all over Los Angeles County, according to the local Commission on Human Relations. Nearly all the major targeted groups - blacks, Latinos, gays and Jews - were all in the crosshairs. A big contributor to all of this is the increasing number of hard-edged, hot-eyed white supremacists. Amanda Susskind is with the local Anti-Defamation League. They have counted more than a thousand racist skinheads in Southern California alone.

Ms. AMANDA SUSSKIND (Director, West Coast Anti-Defamation League): We tracked 110 skinhead groups around the country that we didn't know about five years ago. With the advent of the Internet, it has a democratizing influence in the sense that a small group can do just as much damage.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So why are there so many skinheads in southern California? To begin with, there's history here. Richard Butler, the founder and long-time leader of the Aryan Nations, used to work as an engineer at Lockheed Martin in Los Angeles. He started the movement here. Immigration has also stirred up hatred. Anti-immigration groups in southern California have found common cause with supremacists.

(Soundbite of ring)

TEMPLE-RASTON: A high school in northern Los Angeles County, in a town called Palmdale, shows how all of this is unfolding at a more grassroots level.

KAYLEEN (Student, William J. Pete Knight High School): There's a lot of that going on here. Well, like, I knew...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kayleen is a freshman. Her parents asked that we not use her last name. She says, quite matter-of-factly, that Palmdale has its own white supremacist clique.

KAYLEEN: I've seen them around. Like, there's lot, like some skinheads here, but then, like, the black people get mad and then they start fighting. And then, there's, like, a lot of Mexican versus black that fight, that happens a lot.

TEMPLE-RASTON: She says the skinheads all wear plaid shirts and, well, have shaved heads.

KAYLEEN: They're just really weird. And they'll, like, go around doing their Hitler stuff, and they'll be like, heil Hitler, and they say all that kind of stuff and it's just - it's annoying. It's not necessary.

(Soundbite of song "Wake Up")

RACIAL HOLY WAR (Skinhead Metal Band): Wake up!

TEMPLE-RASTON: One reason why there are so many skinheads in Kayleen's school is because they are being recruited actively, and one of the ways these hate groups do that is through music.

(Soundbite of song "Wake Up")

RACIAL HOLY WAR: (Singing) We lost your mind when I was on the road. You come and maybe it's time to go...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Back in 2005, something called Panzerfaust Records started what it called Project Schoolyard U.S.A. It was an effort to get 100,000 CDs into the hands of school children across the country.

(Soundbite of song "Wake Up")

RACIAL HOLY WAR: (Singing) And now I see why…

TEMPLE-RASTON: This tune is by Racial Holy War or RaHoWa, and it may sound like any other music you've asked your teenager to turn down, but this song is a hate rock hit. The lyrics are calling on listeners to wake up to the fact that they are surrounded by minorities and, believe me, this song is tame.

KAYLEEN: Yeah, I've just heard it, because what they say in the songs and stuff they say, like, the F word and the N word and all that kind of stuff, so you kinda get the hint, what they're doing.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kayleen says the music is everywhere.

KAYLEEN: Like when I go on my friends' MySpace pages or stuff, like I'll hear the music and then, I like go in their "about me" and I'll read what they wrote, then I'm like, oh, that's what. And you know, you kind of hear the lyrics, then you kind of get what it is and then you're kind of like, oh, I'm not going to listen to this anymore.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Before the Internet, the white power music scene was an underground affair. Today, kids just download it off the Web. Richard Eaton studies the white supremacist movement at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. He worries about the music's impact.

Mr. RICHARD EATON (Researcher, Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles): When we first started with this whole music thing, we asked kids, what do you think about the lyrics? And they said, oh, I only listen to it because I like the sound of the music. But when you're listening to this stuff all the time and you're hearing those lyrics, they stick with you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's one of the reasons why the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has started going into the schools.

Unidentified Man: All right, guys. Come on up.

TEMPLE-RASTON: They have a trailer, they call it the Tolerancemobile, that they take from school to school.

Unidentified Man #1: Open up your minds, and then we'll discuss it later, OK? Come on in.

(Soundbite of hip-hop music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: As concussive hip-hop music shakes the trailer, freshman straggle in, milling around the seats, looking around nervously. Detective Chris Keeling of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is standing at the back. He's a beefy man with an easy smile. The lights go out, and then the movie starts up.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man #2: A hate crime is not just an individual crime. We don't just have one victim. Anyone that resembles that victim is victimized.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The video is a half-hour stream of cautionary tales. It looks at racist gangs and violence in L.A.

(Soundbite of a movie clip)

Unidentified Man #3: When I was on the ground, one guy stomped me in the head. I was, like the jelly out of my eye had popped out, out of my eye, like it was literally dripping out of my eye.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This isn't just a rhetorical exercise for the new freshmen. One of the incidents in the video, a beating of two Hispanic kids by black schoolmates, actually took place here. After the movie, Detective Keeling tries to engage the kids.

Mr. CHRIS KEELING (Detective, Los Angeles Sheriff Department): Well, first, I want to ask a question. Is there anything in that video that kind of looked familiar to you guys? Anybody?

Unidentified Girl #1: The guy talking?

Mr. KEELING: The guy, which one?

Unidentified Girl #1: Geraldo.

Mr. KEELING: Geraldo.

Unidentified Girl: I know him and Pamela.

Mr. KEELING: Yeah, you know them, huh?

Unidentified Girl #1: Yes.

Mr. KEELING: What does that tell you?

Unidentified Girl #1: I don't know.

Mr. KEELING: Does that tell you that it's not something that just happens...

Unidentified Girl #1: Yeah.

Mr. KEELING: In L.A. or Highland Park or Cyprus or Orange County. Where else is it happening?

Unidentified Kids: In our community.

Mr. KEELING: Right here. Right here.

Unidentified Girl #2: Right here.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Waiting until high school, Keeling says, is too late now. That's why they've started showing this movie to middle school students. By the time these kids are freshmen, many hate groups have already got their hooks in them. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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