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Anti-Latino Hate Crimes Spike in California in Possible Trend

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Anti-Latino hate crimes in California spiked up by almost 50% last year, the state's attorney general's office reported Wednesday. That dramatic rise, from 81 such crimes in 2009 to 119 in 2010, followed a decade of declines.

The numbers may be indicative of a renewed national rise in hate crimes directed at Latinos, who are often assumed to be undocumented immigrants. Nationally, FBI hate crime statistics showed a 40% rise in such crimes between 2003 and 2007, but that was followed by decreases in 2008 and 2009. The national numbers for the year 2010 are not expected to be released until November of this year.

The national hate crime numbers are notoriously sketchy, and only give a very rough indication of trends in hate crimes. However, many experts consider California particularly good at reporting hate crimes, so that state's statistics are considered much more accurate than most others'. California, along with Arizona, has been the scene of much conflict between native Americans and immigrants, and if that conflict is heating up there, a similar pattern may be developing nationally.

California officials also reported that the number of hate crimes directed at black people, the LGBT community and Jews declined between 2009 and 2010.

The apparent national rise in anti-Latino hate crime between 2003 and 2007 coincided with some of the more virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, much of it coming from "mainstream" nativists like then-CNN host Lou Dobbs and then-Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). If a second national spike in hate crimes against Latinos has occurred since then, it's not clear why. An increasing proportion of the nativist invective of the last couple of years in America has been directed at Muslims.

In a related report, the Department of Justice in June published a study, based on questionnaires sent to a statistically representative sample of the population rather than on police reports, that estimated the number of hate crime victimizations between 2003 and 2009 -- an average of about 195,000 a year. An earlier DOJ study that used the same methodology -- considered far more accurate than the hate crime statistics that are reported to the FBI each year -- found an average 210,000 hate crime victimizations each year between 2000 and 2003. The apparent decline in hate crimes nationally followed the pattern of generally declining violent crime.