The headline from LA Weekly was nothing short of jarring: “L.A. Hate Crime Continues to Surge, but It Has Exploded in Long Beach.”
As a gay man, partnered to a person of color, that kind of headline can be perturbing, frightening, and worrisome—and I’m white. I can’t imagine being my partner, or a woman of color, or a trans person… And with those headlines, emotions run high and you start to read and you discover that the explosion they speak of isn’t just a boom but, according to its author Dennis Romero, an outright damned nuclear bomb going off:
“Hate crime in the city of Los Angeles remains on the rise in the era of President Trump, according to preliminary midyear data from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino… Los Angeles’ midyear increase was mild compared with other cities. Long Beach was looking at a preliminary surge of 700 percent this year[.]”
Seven. Hundred. Percent.
Here’s the thing: that number is extremely deceptive if not outright egregious.
What Romero cited wasn’t midyear data but a two-month set of data from 2016 and 2017—January 1 to March 1 specifically. If one were to compare solely those two months, then yes, a so-called 700% increase in hate crimes would be accurate because those two months in 2017 saw an absolute odd increase in hate crimes. There was a total of eight crimes in those two months alone (six in January alone), the same amount that occurred for the entirety of 2016; the four months following saw three more hate crimes committed, bringing the midyear 2017 total to eleven.
Three of those eleven were what LBPD representative Nancy Pratt called “telephonic threats” to religious centers; threats that were part of a national trend following the swearing-in of Trump, not specifically tethered to Long Beach and, though absolutely terrifying, not physically violent.
Four of those eleven were vandalism incidents; again, not physically violent.
In short, the focus on Long Beach’s single-incidence numbers without taking into account population is shoddy reporting.
Take, for example, Los Angeles: they’ve had 161 hate crimes by midyear of 2017 for about 4 million people; roughly 4 for every 100,000. Up from 2016, which was also up from 2015. Three consecutive years of increases.
Long Beach had 11 crimes midyear 2017 for about 500,000 folks; roughly 2 for every 100,000 people—half of the rate at which Los Angeles had hate crimes in 2017. That number is indeed up from 2016, which was down from 2015, which was up from 2014.
So technically I can write a headline that says, “Hate Bomb: Los Angeles Hate Crimes Double the Rate of Long Beach.”
But I didn’t. Because it’s unethical and misleading.
As Pratt said, any increase of hate crimes is “alarming and never a good thing.” That I am certain we can all agree with. And the most perturbing part of it all is the fact that hate crimes have risen across the entire nation—this isn’t a Long Beach or LA problem.
It’s a national and statewide issue.
Stretching numbers into percentages along eyebrow-raising lines to single out one city over another—despite increases in both—all in the name of stoking fear in people who are already walking the streets with a perpetual need to turn their eyes behind them is not doing anyone a favor.
Knock it off, LA Weekly—and stick to sound data.