Hate crimes

Graffiti mars the steeple on the Greater Holy Faith Baptist Church on 155th Street in Compton in January. Cases of vandalism make up close to one-third of reported hate crimes, according to a new report. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / January 25, 2013)

Hate crimes in Los Angeles County hit their second-lowest point in 23 years last year, but violent attacks based on race and sexual orientation rose from 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

There were 462 hate crimes reported in the county in 2012, a 6% decrease from the previous year.

Although cases of vandalism -- which make up close to one-third of reported hate crimes -- and simple assault had decreased, the number of aggravated assaults increased from 63 in 2011 to 88 last year. But the report noted that the incidents had decreased 33% the previous year.

The county saw three cases of attempted murder involving seven victims and one case each of arson, attempted rape and sexual assault.

There was also an increase in hate crimes between blacks and Latinos from 2011 to 2012, and a greater percentage of those crimes were violent. In particular, human relations commission Executive Director Robin Toma said he was concerned about the continuing issue of attacks on African Americans by Latino gang members.

The commission launched an initiative in 2007 focused on preventing racialized gang violence. Toma also credited local and federal law enforcement agencies with cracking down on racially motivated hate crimes by gangs -- including the indictment in February of two Latino gang members in Compton who were accused of a racially motivated attack on a black family.

The vast majority of hate crimes were committed against African Americans, lesbians and gay men, Jews and Latinos, said the report.

At a news conference Wednesday, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey -- who prosecuted hate crimes early in her career, including the county's first race-based hate crime murder case -- promised to make hate crime prosecutions a continuing priority.

"We still have work to do. We can do better," she said.

Sabel Simone, a transgender woman who was the victim of a brutal assault in April, spoke about her experience.

Simone was returning home from shopping in her neighborhood near Santa Monica and Vermont on the afternoon of April 20 when a man began following her, asking, "Are you a man or a woman? What are you?"

In an attack that was caught on surveillance video from a nearby business, the man -- later identified as Luis Shull -- knocked Simone to the ground, then punched her repeatedly in the face. Simone was able to break free and the attacker ran off, but passersby had stopped their car when they saw the attack, and they chased him down and detained him until police arrived.

"Coming from being brought up in the South, I grew up with being hated for the color of my skin," Simone -- who is African American -- told reporters Wednesday. "Then as an adolescent, I grew up being hated because I was gay...but in 2013 beaten for being a trans woman, a trans woman of color."

She thanked the bystanders who intervened to help her and the authorities who brought her attacker to justice.

"My case was a perfect example of how every hate crime should be handled," she said.

Shull pleaded guilty to assault likely to result in great bodily injury and admitted that the attack was a hate crime. He was sentenced to 12 years in state prison.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Fernanda Barreto called the sentence appropriate because the attack was motivated by "just pure hate." 

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Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com