Every kindergartner knows it: Choosing to be hostile, malicious or violent toward people just because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender is wrong. Yet, hate crimes are committed frequently, and organizations and institutions all over the city are cracking down on them.
On Oct. 15, the Seattle LGBT Commission and the Seattle Human Rights Commission sponsored a hate-crimes forum at Town Hall, in collaboration with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. (The Seattle LGBT Commission works with city officials and departments to construct policy that is sensitive to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.)
The event was meant to be educational: to explain what hate crimes are, how to handle one if you see one happen and to explain the police department’s role in addressing them. It was also an opportunity for participants to share their experiences and speak with local experts on hate-crime issues.
The two-hour event was divided into one-hour sections: the first hour featuring a panel discussion, moderated with pre-determined questions; and with second-hour participants breaking into smaller groups to ask and answer questions more individually.
The hate-crime panel included Bruce Miyake, assistant U.S. Attorney for Western District of Washington’ Mike Hogan, of the King County Prosecutor’s Office; Seattle Assistant Police Chief Dick Reed; Christie-Lynn Bonner, peer-support coordinator for the Seattle Police Department; and Hardeep Singh Rekhi, a board member for OneAmerica.
Approximately 90 people attended the event.
During the breakout session, participants expressed concerns about hate crimes that are reported to the Seattle Police Department and police activity. The setup of the forum was an effort to improve public participation in the hate-crime-fighting process.
“We had great wealth of information in the room, and participants really felt the folks in the table were listening to what they said,” said Seattle Office for Civil Rights policy analyst Marta Idowu.
“One major theme of questions included accountability concerns with the police and community. Another message was the idea of police being able to hand out flyers about hate crimes and malicious Internet uses,” she said.
Another theme involved the importance of praising police officers who have met or exceeded expectations in dealing with hate crimes, specifically around empathy and compassion.
Themes were also raised about changing bad policing, involving the community in reforming policing practices and empowering citizens if they felt police were not meeting their needs.
“The hope is to build connections and to establish community trust,” Idowu said. “And the biggest thing for us was that participants wanted to have a follow-up [to this forum], and now, we’re looking to have another round.”
Awareness of others
Of course, it’s not only the LGBT community that deals with hate crimes. Other populations are frequent targets, as well.
According to a report released by the FBI in 2009, there were a total of 6,598 single-bias hate crimes in the United States:
•48.5 percent were due to racial prejudice;
•19.7 percent were due to religious prejudice;
•18.5 percent were due to sexual-orientation prejudice;
•11.8 percent were due to ethnicity or national-origin prejudice; and
•1.5 percent were due to disability prejudice.
Also in 2009, 4,793 hate crimes were committed against individuals. The types of crime:
•45 percent were incidents of intimidation;
•35.4 percent were simple assaults; and
•19.1 percent were aggravated assault.
The rest of the crimes include eight murders and nine forcible rapes.
In the same year, 2,970 hate crimes were committed against property: 83 percent were classified as acts of vandalism, destruction and damage, while the rest were burglary, arson, larceny-theft, robbery, motor vehicle theft and others.
The locations of the hate crimes, according to the FBI report:
•31.3 percent took place in or near homes;
•17.2 percent occurred on alleys, highways, streets or roads;
•11.4 percent took place in schools;
•6.1 percent happened in garages or parking lots; and
•4.3 percent occurred in churches, temples and synagogues.
The remaining 29.7 percent took place in other locations.
The bias events that were reported were targeted at 12 different minority groups with gay and lesbian and black groups accounting for 48 percent of the crimes. The combination of gay and lesbian, black and Hispanic groups accounted for 66 percent of all bias incidents. Other minority groups on the top-12 list were Jewish and Catholic groups.
In Seattle, during the first half of 2012 (Jan. 1 through June 30), a total of 50 bias-related incidents were reported to the Seattle Police Department (the department uses “bias” instead of “hate”). Thirty-three of the incidents were determined to be crimes, 17 of which were the crime of “malicious harassment,” according to the department. A total of eight (24 percent) criminal cases were cleared for arrest, three of which were felonies.
Getting beyond hate
“I personally believe that America will be more accepting of Arab Americans in due course,” said Huda Giddens, president of the Arab Center of Washington. “It is a matter of becoming more familiarized with the richness and beauty of Arab culture.”
Giddens said her organization educates the public, which fosters more understanding. Other groups of multiple religions do similar work.
On Nov. 8 at the University of Washington, the Jewish student group Hillel and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) held an interfaith social for women. The evening started at the Islamic House near campus and hopped to the nearby Hillel facility, giving both groups an opportunity to experience the others’ “turf.” Participants then enjoyed dinner and a movie together. The organizations plan to host similar events in the future.
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