LOS ANGELES, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The rate of alleged hate crimes directed against Los Angeles County residents of Middle Eastern descent surged in September after the terrorist attacks and then tailed off in the following weeks, according to figures released by county officials.
The Human Resources Commission report released late Thursday showed that 92 incidents listed as possible hate crimes, including two homicides, were directed at Middle Easterners and other Muslims between Sept. 11 and Dec. 12, a total of seven times above the number reported in the entire year 2000.
"Fear combined with prejudice resulted in hate," the commission's executive director, Robin Toma, told the Los Angeles Times.
Toma said that most of the incidents involved vandalism or written threats, however the murders of two Middle Eastern men remained under investigation as possible hate crimes.
Adel Karas, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, was killed Sept. 15 in his Los Angeles grocery store; Abdullah Nimer, Palestinian-American, was murdered Oct. 13 while selling clothing door to door in South Los Angeles. Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the killings stemmed from robbery attempts.
Two members of the radical Jewish Defense League were arrested this month for allegedly plotting to bomb a Los Angeles-area mosque and also to bomb the offices of Rep. Darrell Issa, a Southern California congressman of Lebanese descent.
Toma noted that the overall number of incidents in the county seemed to crest three weeks after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast and since have declined steadily. The trend was seen in other parts of the state as well.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer reported this month that hate crimes directed at Arabs statewide fell from around 10 per day immediately after Sept. 11 to roughly one per day by the end of November. Some of the incidents targeted Indian Sikhs, who are neither Muslim nor are they from the Middle East.
Toma and other officials Thursday credited the rapid decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes to repeated calls for tolerance from President Bush and other public officials. A series of public service announcements recorded by celebrities such as Patricia Arquette, Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Stiller was unveiled at Thursday's news conference.
Arquette, an actress, told reporters that despite the seeming decrease in hate-inspired violence, there were concerns that a new and subtle level of anti-Muslim sentiment among Americans might become an unpleasant phenomenon for months to come.
"The violent acts have declined, but part of what has emerged is insidious racism," she said.