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As originally published in the Orange County Register.

Irvine United Congregational Church proudly advertises itself as “radically inclusive.”

“Since its beginning in 1979, IUCC has been a uniting church open to persons of every age, race, sexual orientation and religious background,” the website promises. Today, many congregants and members are members of the LGBTQ community.

That doctrine sometimes makes the Christian church a target for threatening letters and emails, said Rev. Steve Swope.

So late last year, when California’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) offered community organizations a chance to apply for financial grants to upgrade their security, IUCC gave it a go.

“We found out about the grant in November, five days before applications were due,” Swope said. “With the help of the Irvine Police Department, we were able to pull together our information just in the nick of time.”

This week, the church learned it will receive its request for $21,000. It will use that money for communication devices and lighting around the church’s preschool. “We are truly gratified,” Swope said.

Overall, the Office of Emergency Services is distributing $47.5 million to 290 community groups across the state. In its Jan. 25 announcement, the state agency said the grants are intended for “security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk for violent attacks and hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs or mission.”

In a statement, Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci wrote: “No Californian should have to fear for their safety when going to a house of worship, community center or reproductive health clinic.”

The threat such groups face is real.

Hate crimes and hate incidents have jumped steadily in recent years, nationally and in California. From 2019 to 2020, Orange County saw a 35% jump in hate crimes and a 69% jump in hate incidents, continuing an upturn that started in 2015. The Orange County Human Relations Commission found that in 2020, the last year for which data is available, anti-Black, anti-Semetic and anti-Latino actions were the most common local hate crimes, while anti-Asian hate was rising the fastest.

Three dozen Orange County organizations won security grants that collectively are worth more than $5 million. Recipients include synagogues, Asian-American nonprofits, Planned Parenthood clinics and Islamic centers.

Six of the Orange County sites receiving grants are part of Korean Community Services – founded five decades ago provide Korean immigrants with, among other aid, medical and mental health services.

“Anti-Asian hate is so heightened now due to the rhetoric surrounding coronavirus,” said Ellen Ahn, executive director for Korean Community Services. “It’s no secret Orange County can be a hotbed of anger.

“In this milieu, we worry about the population we serve,” Ahn added, citing the mass shooting at massage spas in Atlanta last year in which four women of Korean ethnicity died.

While the nonprofit has received public grants in the past, Ahn noted that this one is different.

“Rarely does the state pay for actual hardware and physical enhancements,” she said. “We are happy to have an opportunity to ‘harden,’ as it’s called, our security systems.”

Muslim Americans, too, frequently are subject to harassment and violence. Anti-Muslim (described as “Anti-Arab” in county data) incidents have been consistent in Orange County in recent years. And in 2017 a mass shooting at a Canadian mosque left six people dead and five others seriously wounded.

Founded in 2004 to support Muslim Vietnamese immigrants, the Islamic Center of Fullerton has been bullied on social media and subjected to a couple of attempted break-ins, said board president Mohammad Raghib.

The center will use part of its $200,000 grant for a new camera system, reinforced doors and concrete barriers, Raghib said.

“Given what is going on in the world today, we certainly need to make these improvements,” he said.

“It’s very important not only for us but for other faith-based groups. Jewish people, Christians; we all need security. Look at what happened at the Texas synagogue.”

On Jan. 15, a man held four people hostage at a synagogue near Dallas for 11 hours before police could rescue them. In 2019, one woman was killed in a shooting at Chabad of Poway, and a year before that 11 people were killed and six others were wounded in a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Muslim-based humanitarian organization ICNA Relief USA also is no stranger to threats.

“Across the country, Muslims have faced a lot of discrimination and hate crimes,” said Abdullah Zikria, the group’s Southern California manager. “We definitely feel some anxiety.”

The group’s Fullerton location received a grant for $200,000 to update security cameras and keypad systems, and to add concrete barriers and new fencing.

“It is a huge relief just knowing we can now go purchase these things,” Zikria said. “We need our clients and employees to be safe.”

ICNA Relief provides disaster assistance throughout the country, helping survivors of hurricanes, wildfires and other catastrophes.

“We serve anybody who is going through adversity, irrespective of background,” Zikria said.

Ten Planned Parenthood clinics around the county each won grants ranging from $50,000 to $190,000.

The extreme politicization of our mission can sometimes render our locations a target to attacks and hate crimes,” Linda Florence, director of security for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, wrote via email. 

“We are thrilled to receive this important grant funding,” Florence added. “The awards will support target hardening, staff training and physical security enhancements to help make our facilities as safe as possible for patients, employees and visitors.

For Community Legal Aid SoCal in Santa Ana, the safety issues are largely due to the organization’s work rather than to external hostilities.

The center offers free legal services to low-income residents. Often, that means assisting survivors of domestic violence.

“We are involved in adversarial and emotionally charged situations,” said Emily Wing, director of funding development for Community Legal Aid. “More family law attorneys are threatened or assaulted than any other kind of attorney – most often, at the attorney’s office.”

Community Legal Aid will apply its $199,000 award to training its staff on de-escalation techniques and for extra security hardware, such as panic buttons.

Raghib, of the Islamic Center of Fullerton, noted that hate crimes are as unpredictable as they are shocking.

“We don’t know when and where these things will happen,” he said. “But we need to be prepared.”


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