Attorney General Becerra Issues Guidance to Law Enforcement on Hate Crimes During COVID-19
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued a bulletin to help ensure law enforcement agencies across California have the necessary information and tools to continue to respond to hate crime activity during the COVID-19 crisis. As a result of rhetoric surrounding COVID-19, there has been growing concern around reports of increased hate incidents and crimes throughout the United States in recent weeks. The California Department of Justice is committed to assisting state, local, and federal partners in tackling hate crimes wherever they occur.
“Crime motivated by hate leaves a deep, lasting scar that can corrode and ripple through society," said Attorney General Becerra. "That’s why, with Americans already reeling from a public health crisis, we must prevent trumped up rhetoric from tearing our communities apart. A virus does not have a race or religion, nor does it choose its victims based on race, creed, or color. We must defeat COVID-19 together. Spewing hate and blame makes that job more difficult. Today’s bulletin is a reminder that California will tackle COVID-19 and hate crimes together."
Hate crimes are serious crimes that may result in imprisonment or jail time for offenders. The California Department of Justice is issuing this bulletin to provide an updated summary and reminder to local law enforcement agencies about the multiple California criminal laws that prohibit hate crimes and provide enhanced penalties for specified hate-related acts. Under California law, a hate crime is defined as a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of the victim's actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes also include criminal acts committed, in whole or in part, because of a person’s association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. Hate crimes are distinct from hate incidents, which are actions or behaviors motivated by hate that are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Examples of hate incidents include name-calling, insults, and distributing hate material in public places. If a hate incident starts to threaten a person or property, it may become a hate crime.
If you believe you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, notify local law enforcement and consider taking the following steps:
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911;
- If needed, seek medical attention;
- Write down the exact words that were used and take note of any other relevant facts so that you don’t forget;
- If safe to do so, save all evidence and take photos;
- Get contact information for other victims and witnesses; and
- Reach out to community organizations in your area that deal with hate crimes or incidents.
Please also be aware that California law prohibits law enforcement from asking individuals, including those who are reporting or are victims of potential crimes, about their immigration status, unless the information is necessary to certify the victim for a U or T visa. More information on state and federal laws protecting immigrant victims of crime is available here.
Many legal aid clinics are offering telephone appointments while their physical offices are closed. These clinics provide free or low-cost civil legal assistance to low-income Californians. To find a clinic in your region, visit the State Bar. Information on additional resources for victims of hate crimes is available through the Victims of Crime Resource Center. For the latest on COVID-19 preparedness, please visit https://covid19.ca.gov/.
Information on hate crime statistics in California is currently available through 2018 on OpenJustice.
A copy of the bulletin is available here.