By Ashley Orona
BOYLE HEIGHTS — The community nonprofit Las Fotos Project debuted a photo exhibit in partnership with the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations as part of the initiative LA vs. Hate, which encourages people to report hate crimes to a countywide 211 hotline.
The exhibit, currently on display at a lot at 1390 E. 1st St., features images taken by Las Fotos youth photographers depicting communities of color who are often the targets of hate crimes. The L.A. vs. Hate campaign launched Aug. 26.
Reported hate crimes increased by 2.6% in L.A. County in 2018, the largest increase since 2009. On a national scale, 54% of hate-motivated incidents go unreported, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
That led to the launch of the 211 hotline, which people can dial into to report hate crimes without involving the police. After someone dials 211, a county employee asks for information about the incident and the person reporting, though the caller has the option to remain anonymous. At the end, the employee asks the caller if they can follow up to direct them to resources they may need.
People can also go onto the 211 website and report a hate crime online, after which someone will follow up with them as well.
This enables the county to help hate crime victims who are uncomfortable reporting to the police, because of immigration status, their communities’ relationship to law enforcement or other reasons.
“Recognizing that many people who are targeted for hate crimes don’t want to call the police, we have identified a great alternative for them that completely protects people’s anonymity,” said Robin Toma, the assistant director of the county Commission on Human Relations.
The 211 hotline also allows the county to collect a broader swath of data on hate crimes and hate incidents. The latter involves derogatory language directed against a person based on race, religion, gender or other categories, but doesn’t rise to the level of a crime.
Recent protests against discrimination experienced by the Black community, anti-immigrant rhetoric by national political leaders and an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic only make the program more urgent, according to Toma.
The LA vs. Hate photo exhibit is meant to share the stories of communities who are targeted by these crimes and incidents as a way of fostering understanding and countering hate.
“[The photographers] shared stories, intimate stories of people’s families, their family members, their friends in a way that helps to humanize them,” Toma said. “The idea is to provide opportunities for people to really understand each other beyond the superficial and beyond the stereotypes. Beyond the general lies and limited knowledge we may have about another group.”
The Las Fotos Project aims to inspire young girls interested in photography to explore their creativity with mentorship. The county Commission on Human Relations partnered with the nonprofit on this exhibit because of its grassroots connection with communities of color.
The exhibit also raises awareness of 211, which not only allows people to report hate crimes and find resources for them, but to also access other assistance like immigration and domestic violence services.
The campaign also seeks to create a community network that can respond proactively to hate crimes and bullying. Various organizations are partnered with the county to provide resources to schools and communities to teach people anti-harassment and conflict-mediation skills.
Dialing 211 may be a safer alternative for those that do not feel comfortable reporting their incident to police authorities. Those who experience or witness a crime in progress are still encouraged to call 911.
The L.A. vs. Hate campaign encourages county residents to go on their official website and share their many free animated gifs to get the word out.