Six Buddhist temples in Orange County, California were reportedly vandalized in the last month, raising alarms against hate crimes that have targeted Asian Americans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a news conference on Saturday, officials announced that three of the sites are located in Garden Grove, while two are in Santa Ana and one is in Westminster.
Huong Tich Temple, located at 4821 W. 5th St. in Santa Ana, was the latest in the string of incidents. Police believe all are related.
The temple saw 15 of its stone Buddha and Bodhisattva statues defaced with black spray paint, one of which had the word “Jesus” on the back.
Thai Viet Phan, who attended the temple as a child, was recently elected to the City Council. She slammed the incident as a hate crime.
“This is not merely felony vandalism. This is a hate crime,” Phan wrote in a Facebook post. “This caused not only thousands of dollars of damage but is only intensifying the division in our community.”
Santa Ana police are pursuing two female suspects in the Nov. 22 incident. Surveillance video shows them trespassing and defacing the statues after 11 p.m.
Damages to the site cost about $6,000. “What their motive is and why they would pick on them, I don’t know,” said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, according to KTLA.
One of the suspects wore a blue New England Patriots beanie and a blue jacket, while the other wore a black beanie and a black sweatshirt. Both had face masks, gray sweatpants, and black and white shoes.
Authorities reportedly looked into Trang Pham, 51, who was charged in 2018 for similar attacks in the same temple and others in the county. However, she has remained in custody and is hence ruled out as a suspect.
Garden Grove City Councilwoman Diedre Nguyen, who organized Saturday’s conference, is “heartbroken” over the damages and fears the message they send to her community.
“I’m mostly scared that because of our culture, many people won’t feel comfortable reporting these incidents, but I want to get out the message that they should if they know anything,” Nguyen said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Police have increased patrols in the affected areas. So far, no similar incidents have been reported, but an arrest is yet to be made.
Orange County released its 2019 Hate Crimes Report last month. Vandalism turned out to be the most reported criminal offense (44%), followed by aggravated assaults (22%), simple assault (13%), threats (9%), harassment (5%), theft (4%), assault and battery (3%) and arson (1%).
Meanwhile, of the 47% of cases motivated by race, ethnicity and/or national origin, 53% targeted Blacks, followed by Hispanics (30%) and Asians (17%).
Feature Images via Thai Viet Phan