LOS ANGELES -- California Attorney General Bill Lockyer released statewide statistics yesterday on 1998 hate crimes before announcing the creation of an advisory commission and a new strategy to combat the problem.
Lockyer was flanked by politicians, law enforcement and civil rights leaders as he spoke at a news conference at the city's Museum of Tolerance.
"Whether hatemongers use gun violence, arson or other illegal means to spread their poison, we in law enforcement and communities throughout California must respond swiftly and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated," Lockyer said. "We must turn our outrage over recent tragedies into action that increases respect for diversity."
The 1,750 hate crime incidents compiled by the California Department of Justice in 1998 from state law enforcement agencies represent a slight decline in overall numbers from the previous years.
Lockyer said he had been waiting for the moment to release the information when he heard about the shooting rampage at a Jewish community center in the city's Granada Hills district Aug. 10.
White supremacist Buford O. Furrow, a 37-year-old mechanic from Washington state, faces murder charges in the shooting death of a Filipino American postal carrier and attempted murder charges for shooting three children, a teen-age counselor and a receptionist at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.
Lockyer said he was establishing a state Civil Rights Commission on Hate Crimes and he named Oakland civil rights crusader Fred Korematsu as its honorary chairman.
The state attorney general also called for the "rapid deployment" of Department of Justice resources to assist local and federal law enforcement agencies when hate crimes involve serious injury, death or significant destruction of property.
Last week's shootings in Los Angeles and the alleged hate-motivated slaying of a gay couple in the Northern California city of Redding are only two examples of a much deeper problem, Lockyer said.
"The list goes on and on of the venom that is all too prevalent in our society," he said.
The new Civil Rights Commission on Hate Crimes will advise the attorney general on finding ways to improve diversity, train law enforcement and monitor extremist hate groups. One of its first tasks, Lockyer said, will be to analyze the state's current system of reporting hate crimes.
In 1998, Lockyer said, law enforcement agencies reported that there were 2,136 victims of hate crimes, and 1,985 people were suspected of committing the crimes. Nearly two-thirds of hate crimes were motivated by race and more than a fifth were sparked by sexual orientation. Two of three crimes also involved violence.