The 2019-20 Governor’s Budget includes one big win for the disability community and the civil rights groups in general: $797,000 and five new positions in the Department of Justice to combat hate crimes.
Anti-disability crimes have been called “the invisible hate crimes.” Victims rarely report them to police, in part because police rarely recognize them as hate crimes or often as serious crimes at all — despite the fact that they often involve extraordinary sadism. The Arc’s leadership role in the civil rights movement’s advocacy on hate crimes is ensuring that our community’s needs are included in the state’s efforts to combat this growing national plague.
The money in the budget shows that Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked for, and will get, the means to seriously step of to the plate on hate crimes. His new five-person DOJ hate crimes unit will take these general steps:
- Create and disseminate outreach materials so law enforcement agencies can better engage with their communities.
- Create and make available training materials for law enforcement agencies on how best to identify and respond to hate crimes.
- Implement a school-based program, in conjunction with representation from law enforcement agencies, aimed at educating the community to identify and confront issues, bias, prejudice and harassment; a huge problem for kids with disabilities.
- Add region-specific data fields to the hate crime database, including items such as zip code in which the reported hate crimes took place and other fields determined by DOJ to support its outreach efforts to the law enforcement agencies.
- Analyze reported hate crimes in various regions in California and send advisory notices to law enforcement agencies when it detects hate crimes happening across multiple jurisdictions.
I don’t anticipate any problem getting the Legislature to approve the governor’s DOJ budget item, though we and the other civil rights groups have offered Attorney General Becerra whatever support he may want.
Becerra’s action seeking the funding came in response to a highly critical report from a state performance audit of law enforcement agencies’ response to hate crimes. We led the other civil rights groups in winning approval of the audit in 2017 after three years of effort. The audit report also helped in winning unanimous approval in the Legislature and by Governor Brown last year of Assembly Bill 1985 by Assembly Member Philip Ting, which we and Equality California sponsored, aimed at improving law enforcement agencies’ hate crime training and procedures. We and the other civil rights groups also won $45,000 in the state budget for the Commission on Peace Office Standards and Training (POST) to upgrade its model hate crimes policy for law enforcing agencies to adopt, including detailed provisions for recognizing and responding to anti-disability hate crimes. We are advising POST now on the revisions to its model policy.
In addition to thanking Attorney General Becerra, we need to thank Assembly Member Kansen Chu, the Assembly Hate Crimes Committee chair, who made the audit request for us in 2017, and Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi, then chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that approved the request. When the audit report came out in 2018, Mr. Chu and Mr. Muratsuchi also conducted a hearing to examine the results and to push DOJ and law enforcement agencies to make the changes the audit recommended. Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, the Assembly Public Safety Committee chair, also was outspokenly supportive at that hearing.
Becerra has proven to be by far the most responsive California attorney general since Bill Lockyer on hate crimes, yet hate crimes against people with disabilities are slow to gain attention. Allying with other civil rights groups on hate crimes – especially those focusing on the rights of senior citizens – will continue to increase our political clout, allowing us to combat all crimes against all people with disabilities, including disabilities caused by aging. We will continue to advocate to Becerra and the Legislature on that front, including by sponsoring a new Senior and Disability Justice Act that should be introduced shortly. Stay tuned.
We shall overcome.
Greg DeGiere, Civil Rights Coordinator, The Arc of California