Los Angeles has seen a threefold spike in hate crimes this year, according to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who places significant blame for the increase on President Donald Trump.
The jump “underscores what all of us know by now, which is that the atmosphere of our nation — the way President Trump has led from the White House — has given license to these groups,” he said. Feuer’s comments came during an Oct. 18 discussion with the Journal’s editorial staff.
Feuer has been a vocal critic of Trump. Following August’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he held a news conference to express anger at the president’s response to the actions of the neo-Nazis.
Feuer said the recent increase in hate crimes is connected to white supremacist activity throughout Los Angeles. His office, which is charged with prosecuting criminal misdemeanors, has been working with law enforcement in pursuing gangs such as the San Fernando Valley-based group known as the Peckerwoods.
During the wide-ranging, hourlong conversation with the Journal, Feuer also discussed his efforts to reach out to L.A. Muslims, and said fighting homelessness should be a top city priority.
Feuer, who is Jewish, has made building relationships with the Muslim community a central part of his work for the city. Amid protests against Trump’s January executive order to block immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Feuer headed to Los Angeles International Airport to see how he could help. He recalled a woman who pleaded with him to help her get vital medication to her husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and had been detained by immigration authorities.
“That’s a very personalized way to encapsulate the consequences of what is happening” across the nation, he said.
Feuer is most concerned about homelessness, he said. Since he left the City Council, where he served from 1995 to 2001, he has seen homelessness spread from an issue affecting a few areas such as Skid Row and Venice to a citywide crisis.
Noting that people are sleeping on the sidewalk in his Fairfax neighborhood, he said disgrace “is not a strong enough word to characterize how I feel about the fact that there are people … on the street — not even with a blanket, but on the street.”
He hopes to expand a county program to convert motels into homeless housing and to make it safe and lawful for people who have cars but not housing to sleep in their vehicles.
“It is not a good thing for people to sleep in their cars. However, it beats the heck out of sleeping on the street,” he said. He added that until more facilities can be built to support people who are homeless, the city should designate locations where, under regulated conditions, people can sleep legally in their automobiles.
Raised in a Jewish household in San Bernardino, Feuer, 59, is married and the father of two. He said he thought of his daughter, a law student, after the recent accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein became public. In the wake of the scandal, Feuer publicly encouraged victims of sexual harassment and abuse to come forward, promising to pursue prosecution against offenders.
“Some of what we have seen in the nation has exposed how fragile our democracy can be.” – Mike Feuer
Before seeking elected office, Feuer spent eight years as executive director of Bet Tzedek, the legal aid agency, where his work included assisting Holocaust survivors in obtaining reparations. He served in the state Assembly from 2006-2012 following two terms on the City Council. He was elected in March to his second and final term as L.A. city attorney. His term will last 5 1/2 years — longer than usual because of a change in election schedules.
Feuer said democratic institutions need to stand up for what is right during trying times, and that people too often take democracy for granted.
“I think that’s a big mistake,” he said, “and I think some of what we have seen in the nation has exposed how fragile our democracy can be and how important it is for the institutions that keep it together to speak loudly and clearly in a unifying way.”
As for his future career ambitions, Feuer left open the possibility he could seek higher office.
“For me, life is about having a sense of purpose and expressing it in everyday ways,” he said, adding that “at the end of my term, I hope there are opportunities for me — if I’ve earned them — to continue to serve the public.”