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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As hate crimes rise nationally, so do Spokane’s community efforts to identify and eradicate them

On Feb. 8, at around 9 a.m., Spokane police officers were called to Temple Beth Shalom, a South Hill synagogue serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and southern British Columbia.

Overnight, 44-year-old self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Raymond Bryant, defaced the holy place, painting red swastikas and smearing paint over its Holocaust memorial.

“What happened to our synagogue in Spokane on Monday night is a reflection of a disturbing national trend in domestic extremism,” Temple Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Tamar Malino wrote in a guest opinion piece published in The Spokesman-Review on Valentine’s Day.

Although Malino didn’t recall hard numbers, her observation was accurate. Last month, the FBI reported there were 7,759 national hate crimes in 2020, the highest level since 2008.

Local numbers are down in recent years, but activists and communities of color are still concerned about hate incidents that are not reported.

Among Spokane-area police agencies, the FBI tallied 23 hate crimes in 2020. In 2018, data showed Spokane with 31 hate crimes throughout the year, 22 of them related to race.

Of last year’s crimes, the Spokane Police Department marked 14 incidents, with 11 relating to race and ethnicity and three associated with sexual orientation. The Spokane Valley Police Department reported three hate crimes, all under Anti-Black or Anti-African-American.

Hate crime analysis done by the Spokane Agency, which covers tribal police, did not specify which categories their four hate crimes fell under. The Spokane County Sherriff’s Office tallied two: one in the anti-other Christian, the other in the Anti-Black category.

Dr. Kristen Hoover, the director of the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, recognized the reporting discrepancies and said hate crime reporting needs to be more meticulous by “casting a wider net of collecting hate crime data.” About 80% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies participate in the annual FBI report, raising more concerns about underreporting.

“The FBI hate crime report is an important tool to understand what’s happening in communities here and across the country, but it’s also an incomplete tool,” Hoover said. “How much further we have to go in actually understanding the number of hate crimes that are occurring is deeper than national tools.”

Local organizations agree with Hoover’s approach to be more extensive .

Lance Kissler is a volunteer for the Spokane’s Human Rights Commission, another community human rights group that sees a discrepancy between what many people consider a “hate crime” versus what the law actively covers.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase of hate-related incidents,” Kissler said. “What we don’t know is how many of them are unreported or never accurately categorized as a hate crime.”

The FBI defines hate crimes as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Kissler cited the killing of Jason Fox, a 19-year-old Newport man who was openly gay. Fox’s body was found beaten. Someone vandalized Fox’s memorial with homophobic slurs, KHQ reported, but the suspects arrested on suspicion of his killing have not been charged with hate crimes.

Milano said the legal aspects of the Temple Beth Shalom incident were complex. Bryant admitted to the vandalism . He was eventually charged with second-degree malicious mischief and malicious harassment, which count as hate crimes in Washington.

“I don’t remember all the legal details of what constitutes a hate crime, but I do remember being puzzled how (the legal process) played out and what they could and couldn’t prosecute about it. It was definitely more complex than I thought it would be.”

Supervisory Special Agent Ryan Bruett, who works as the Civil Rights Program Coordinator in the FBI’s Seattle Bureau, clarified the legal process of hate crimes and detailed the specifics investigators look for during prosecution, such as bias motivation.

“It’s traditional crime … but the offense was committed, at least partly, due to the offender’s bias against the victim’s perceived membership of a protected class,” Bruett said. “The underlying offense can and usually is charged. If it’s assault, then it will be charged as assault, but if we can prove the offender thought the victim was gay and he didn’t like gay people, then we can also charge a hate crime.”

Some hate crimes can go to federal jurisdiction. Federal hate crimes are investigated through five federal statutes: the Shepard Byrd Act, Criminal Interference with Right to Fair Housing, Church Arson Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights and the Conspiracy Against Rights. Offenders can also be prosecuted on both federal and local levels, but it depends on what can be proved in court.

“For example, if a bank robbery occurs in downtown Spokane, that’s a violation of Washington state law, but that same incident is a federal violation because the bank is FDIC ensured by federal jurisdiction,” Bruett said. “The Spokane Police Department and FBI could prosecute that offense.”

Even when incidents don’t meet the definition of hate crimes, Bruett said reporting is still important. If the alleged offender commits a future act that may meet the hate crime definition, the FBI has them on record.

“We can document it, and that’s why we encourage everyone to report everything to us,” Bruett said. “We don’t expect the public to know all the (hate crime) distinctions, we just want the public to report any possible hate crimes to us to document it.”

That’s why Spokane organizations want to engage with the community to ensure more incidents are reported.

Kiantha Duncan, president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter, thinks the communal approach is the first step to create a safe place for communities to come forward. Open communication between Spokane’s human rights organizations can alleviate issues with tracking hate crimes.

“That’s why we have to have that shared understanding that this is not tolerated in this community,” Duncan said. “From there, once we can all commit to being on the same page and agree to holding individuals who are found guilty or accused, we have to take people’s word because if someone has been harmed, we have to believe them. (It has to be) clear that hate crimes are not acceptable in this city.”

The Spokane County Human Rights Task Force is building online resources outside of law enforcement. Dean Lynch, task force president, said the group’s role as a “community collaborator” created the option for someone to “report instances that may not rise to levels of criminal statues.”

“One of the primary functions that our organization has is our online development tool for those who report instances of hate,” Lynch said. “They can go online and fill it out. It can also be done anonymously or provide name and contact information for follow ups.”

Once the data is collected, the commission will send it to law enforcement to determine if a hate crime has been committed.

To help further facilitate reporting hate crimes, the Spokane Human Rights Commission, the NAACP, the county Human Rights Task Force and Gonzaga’s Institute for Hate Studies collaborated to push for the creation of the city’s Office of Civil Rights. The organizations believe having an office will help community efforts to “address civil, human rights and hate incidents,” which includes accurate tracking and reporting.

“Our biggest project has been trying to get an Office of Civil Rights set up within the city so there can be actual enforcement, outreach and education and accountability, all related within civil rights,” Kissler said.

They have achieved that goal, as Jerrall Haynes, current chairman of the Spokane Public Schools Board of Trustees, became the city’s first civil rights coordinator this week. But cultural barriers remain in reporting hate crimes.

With nonwhite communities a common target, differences such as language can prevent people from reporting. Julie Humphreys, a spokesperson for the Spokane Police Department, explained law enforcement’s engagement with Spokane’s Asian American/Pacific Islander community to translate materials related to hate crime reporting.

Spokane Police worked with Pui-Yan Lam and Rowena Pineda of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition - Spokane Chapter to translate a hate crime brochure into six Asian languages, Humphreys said. 

. “Dealing with hate crimes in the African American community, we would immediately talk with the NAACP or the Carl Maxey Center so they are aware; likewise, with the Asian American community, (we’d connect with) the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition,” she said.

In addition to translation, Humphreys noted the police department’s bias-based policing sheet, which specifies the definition of a hate crime. The document was created last year.

As hate crimes continue to reach historic records nationally, Spokane’s community engagement has risen as well. Rabbi Malino remembers getting support throughout the process from the NAACP, the county human rights task force and the city’s human rights commission.

“It was really remarkable to feel like law enforcement took everything very seriously and were attentive to our questions and needs, plus the community was amazingly supportive,” Malino said. “It was very powerful to have so much of the community come out in support of us, because it was a pretty frightening experience. Everyone was amazing.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the correct names of the two people who worked with Spokane Police to translate hate crime information into six Asain languages.