The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Graffiti at Los Angeles Churchs Prompts Hate Crime Investigation

Authorities have seen graffiti and vandalism at two Rowland Heights churches. KTLA News reports that these vandalism acts have prompted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to investigate these incidents as hate crimes.

Offensive words, phrases and symbols were scribbled in a Jehovah’s Witness church at 19111 Killian Avenue on Saturday and also at another church located in the 28000 block of Highridge Road in Rolling Hills Estates.

What exactly is a hate crime and how are hate crimes investigated in Los Angeles? FindLaw defines a hate crime as "the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability." Most hate crimes today are motivated by racial bias; the FBI states that only 17 percent of hate crime offenses result from religious bias. Approximately 4.3 percent of hate crimes occur at churches, synagogues or temples. Los Angeles County residents are able to report hate crimes in their community by contacting a local police department or their local FBI field office.

In the case of the graffiti incidents at the Rowland Heights churches, police say that there was more than $500 worth of damage. Anybody found to be a suspect may face either a misdemeanor or felony charge over the incident. While some people may argue that this "expression" is free speech protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, generally, words that constitute an actual threat to another are not protected by the right to free speech.

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