Incremental progress on fighting anti-disability hate crimes

California’s police training agency is about to take an important step to better train officers to recognize anti-disability hate crimes, the often-sadistic crimes known as the invisible hate crimes. The quick action by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) comes in response to a June 7 letter from 22 civil rights groups led by The Arc.

By July 15, POST will expand its online hate crime training course to include more information on how officers can recognize that a crime is a hate crime -– including extensive indicators of when a crime is an anti-disability hate crime. POST also will update its police academy curriculum to include the broad legal definition of the term “hate crime.”

The changes reflect Assembly Bill 1985 of 2018 by Assemblymember Philip Ting, which The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration sponsored along with Equality California.

The news came last week as Attorney General Xavier Becerra and legislative leaders released a video urging Californians to stand united against hate and report suspected hate crimes to their local law enforcement agencies. Becerra also issued a press release and links to other state hate crime resources.

Becerra’s actions, like POST’s, came at least partly in response to urging by the civil rights groups — and by 23 legislators led by Assemblymember Kansen Chu.

Crimes motivated by bias against people with disabilities are known as the invisible hate crimes because police officers rarely recognize them as hate crimes. Victims report an estimated 40,000 anti-disability hate crimes per year nationally, but law enforcement agencies report less than 100, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

In California in 2018, law enforcement agencies reported just seven anti-disability hate crimes.

The actions by POST and Becerra represent incremental progress in the fight against hate crimes. The major, culture-change progress –- for all hate crime victims, but especially for people with disabilities — will come when and if Becerra takes the sweeping actions requested by the legislators and the civil rights groups.

We’re waiting for Becerra’s response to the civil rights groups’ June 7 letter, but he did respond to the legislators’ May 1 letter. Unfortunately, his response omitted any references to the legislators’ and our major goal of getting all enforcement agencies to adopt formal protocol policies and training requirements that include recognizing hate crimes with special attention to anti-disability hate crimes as spelled out in AB 1985. We’re talking with Assembly Member Chu about how to proceed in this lack of response.

California Civil Rights Groups, Legislators Target Anti-Disability Hate Crimes

Twenty-two civil rights groups led by The Arc are asking the state for strong, concrete actions to protect Californians from hate crimes — with particular attention to anti-disability crimes, known as the invisible hate crimes.

The groups last week wrote Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) spelling out specific, detailed steps the state should take to focus law enforcement agencies on hate crimes –- including everything we believe the state can do without difficult-to-pass further legislation.

The letters support and go beyond requests that 23 legislators made to Becerra on May 1.

One key request from both the legislators and the civil rights groups is to have all law enforcement agencies adopt formal policies guiding their officers’ enforcement of California’s hate crime laws. The policies, which some agencies already have adopted, are to include these sections, crucial to recognizing and prosecuting anti-disability hate crimes:

“’Bias motivation’ [which makes a criminal act a hate crime with added jail or prison time] is a preexisting negative attitude toward actual or perceived characteristics referenced in [Penal Code] Section 422.55. [Disability is the first protected characteristic listed in that section, which goes on to include gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and association with persons with one or more of those characteristics.]

“Depending on the circumstances of each case, bias motivation may include, but is not limited to, hatred, animosity, resentment, revulsion, contempt, unreasonable fear, paranoia, callousness, thrill-seeking, desire for social dominance, desire for social bonding with those of one’s ‘own kind,’ or a perception of the vulnerability of the victim due to the victim being perceived as being weak, worthless, or fair game because of a protected characteristic, including, but not limited to, disability or gender.

“In recognizing suspected disability-bias hate crimes, the policy shall advise officers to consider whether there is any indication that the perpetrator was motivated by hostility or other bias, occasioned by factors such as, but not limited to, dislike of persons who arouse fear or guilt, a perception that persons with disabilities are inferior and therefore ‘deserving victims,’ a fear of persons whose visible traits are perceived as being disturbing to others, or resentment of those who need, demand, or receive alternative educational, physical, or social accommodations.

“In recognizing suspected disability-bias hate crimes, the policy also shall advise officers to consider whether there is any indication that the perpetrator perceived the victim to be vulnerable and, if so, if this perception is grounded, in whole or in part, in anti-disability bias. This includes, but is not limited to, if a perpetrator targets a person with a particular perceived disability while avoiding other vulnerable-appearing persons such as inebriated persons or persons with perceived disabilities different than those of the victim, those circumstances could be evidence that the perpetrator’s motivations included bias against persons with the perceived disability of the victim and that the crime must be reported as a suspected hate crime and not a mere crime of opportunity.

“Information regarding the general underreporting of hate crimes and the more extreme underreporting of anti-disability and anti-gender hate crimes and a plan for the agency to remedy this underreporting.”

This language is straight out of a 2018 bill: sponsored by The Arc and Equality California and carried by Assembly Member Philip Ting, the only hate-crime bill we’ve been able to pass since the start to of five-year nationwide hate crime wave in 2015.

Based on that successful bill, POST developed a model hate crimes policy: that the legislators and civil rights groups want all law enforcement agencies to adopt.

Arc & UCP Join Civil Rights Groups to Ask Governor for Action on Hate Crimes

We’ve joined with a powerful coalition of California civil rights groups to ask Governor Newsom for action on hate crimes and related domestic terrorism.

Our priority is always anti-disability hate crimes and other victimization of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By allying with the broad civil rights coalition, we’ve been able to accomplish much more for our community’s safety that we could have accomplished alone.

A bill we sponsored along with the LGBTQ organization Equality California, AB 1985 [], for example, focused largely on training police to recognize and respond to anti-disability crimes, which we call the invisible hate crimes.

As shown in point 4 in the following letter to Governor Newsom, we’ve earned the support of our fellow civil rights groups in calling on law enforcement agencies to carry out that law.

Here is a link to the coalition letter.

A Big Budget Win on Anti-Disability Hate Crimes

The 2019-20 Governor’s Budget includes one big win for the disability community and the civil rights groups in general: $797,000 …

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

Greg DeGiere

Civil Rights Coordinator

The Arc of California