Vivienne Mann fled Cape Town, South Africa, in the late ’70s to escape the racial discrimination and oppression institutionalized by apartheid laws, making stops in several other countries before landing in Los Angeles. However, over 30 years later, the same forces that drove her away from her hometown resurfaced at her doorstep in the U.S.
On Dec. 21, 2022, Mann and her roommate were awoken by someone shouting racial slurs and banging on their apartment door. The suspect also taped a letter to their door, which read, “Hurry up and die … illegal immigrant. Go back to your … country … ”
“I’ve never had to double lock my doors and double lock my windows in my life,” said Mann after the incident, which Los Angeles Police Department officers filed as a hate crime. “My windows have been open 24/7 for almost 30 years.”
With a diverse population of close to 10 million people, Los Angeles County saw its highest number of reported hate crimes in 19 years, according to a report published by the Commission on Human Relations at the end of last year. Of the 786 hate crimes reported in 2021—a 23% increase from 2020—more than half were racially motivated. Crimes targeting Black, Latinx, Asian, and Middle-Eastern populations all grew, with anti-Black hate crime comprising the largest percentage of reported incidents. Despite making up only 9% of LA’s population, Black residents made up 46% of all racial hate crime victims.
“Our most vulnerable neighbors are facing enough challenges, and now have to worry about a greater risk of being attacked or harassed because of who they are,” said LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn in a statement. “That is unacceptable.”
LA vs. Hate, a community program led by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, has worked to prevent and respond to hate crimes since its launch in September 2019. The program has three major goals: fighting back against the normalization of hate, educating individuals on how to identify and report hate crimes, and supporting affected communities. The program also partners with 211 LA, which provides residents with a phone line and online chat to report instances of hate, discrimination, and bullying.
Theresa Villa-McDowell, human services administrator for the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations and coordinator of the LA vs. Hate Program, said their partnership with 211 LA is a critical resource to identifying where the program needs to target their resources. However, even with the availability of reporting lines and community organizations, Villa-McDowell noted that historically vulnerable populations are less likely to report hate crimes due to factors like hopelessness and uncertainty. The annual report echoes this, stating that the hate crimes shown are likely to comprise only a portion of the crimes actually committed due to lack of reporting.
“We hear from victims who will say things like, why does it matter? Why should I report, there’s nothing that can be done, this is the way things are,” said Villa-McDowell.
In Mann’s case, she, like many others, did not know where to report what she had experienced.
“I didn’t know that there was something that I could seek help for until this happened to me,” she said. “I was so desperate for help. I just went online, and I typed in ‘hate crimes, what do you do?’”
In addition to building awareness of identifying and reporting hate crimes, Villa-McDowell said the LA vs. Hate program is working to ensure historically vulnerable populations work with—and not against—one another.
“Help us understand how we can change behavior, how we can make sure that people from these historically targeted populations don’t turn on each other,” said Villa-McDowell. “We have a shared history, we have shared goals, we worked together so often in the past to realize the strides that we have, and maybe just for a moment, we have forgotten.”
LA Commons, an organization that partners with LA vs. Hate, also hopes to help build these relationships.
“It’s not easy to just say, ‘oh, don’t hate each other.’ People’s minds have to be changed. We have to create more opportunities, which is not easy in Los Angeles, because of the way the city is structured,” said LA Commons Executive Director Karen Mack. “You’re not walking and running into different kinds of folks; I think we have to be very conscious about creative ways for people who are different from each other to come in contact with each other.”
One of LA Commons’ key relationship-building strategies involves engaging communities in creating public art to foster dialogue, interaction, and shared understanding.
“Often in communities of color, in particular, people do not have a voice,” said Mack. “Our ideal is to give people [a] voice. That voice is what helps to, I think, bridge communities.”
Through LA Commons, youths from local schools and community centers collect stories through on-street interviews and personal research. Then, in collaboration with professional artists, they design and create temporary works of art, such as murals or light pole banners, to share these stories.
“We very much know that when the community itself defines what the cultural intervention is—which can include art, dance, murals, DJs, written words, spoken word—it’s really the community touching the healing interventions and running with it,” said Villa-McDowell.
In addition to translating narratives into art, Mack said the organization’s frontline strategy to combat hate is providing mental health support services.
“A real issue in our society, in terms of many of the shootings that we see, is that people are not being supported in the way that they need to be,” Mack said.
For Mann, she hopes that taking action and raising awareness about the importance of reporting hate crimes will help her and others’ mental health.
“Because it’s not for me … it’s for the next person. That [the perpetrators] will never do it again,” she said.