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Property crimes can now be hate crimes

Some property crimes now can be classed as hate crimes if they are racially motivated or if they target other marginalized communities.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he was motivated to press for changes in what can be classed as a hate crime when vandals attacked a gay pride display in Spokane that shocked the community.

“The pride sidewalks in Spokane were defaced in a coordinated attack last October with paint poured on them,” Billig recalled. He said police began pursuing the incident as a hate crime but were shocked when they discovered property crimes were not included in hate crime statutes. “That didn’t seem right,” Billig said. “I saw in our community how that crime caused fear and anger, and it just added to that frustration when it wasn’t able to be pursued.”

Other members of the community remembered the days that followed the incident.

“Like most tragedies facing marginalized communities, the labor of cleaning up these attacks falls upon the shoulders of the impacted community,” KJ January, Director of Advocacy at Spectrum Center Spokane, said. “Members of our local queer organizations came together to clean up the mess, redefining queer joy, strength and perseverance in the process.”

Betsy Wilkerson, President of the Association of Washington Cities, and city council president in Spokane, spoke to other incidents in her community.

“This isn't the first time that expression of inclusivity was smeared by paint in the dark of night,” Wilkerson said. “A Black Lives Matter mural that was painted by some of our city's most prominent pop artists was speared by paint shortly after its inauguration. We never caught the culprits and repairs had to be paid out of pocket.”

Others in support of the bill referenced increased Islamophobia, antisemitism, and a specific incident in Seattle’s International district where windows of the Wing Luke Museum were smashed last fall.

An additional bill sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, was approved which will start a hate crime hotline for Washington State. The hotline will be overseen by the Attorney General’s office and replicates similar programs California and Oregon already have in place.

Miri Cypers, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League PNW, pushed to create the model, as well as sharing how increased hate crime has recently affected her personally.

“This Thanksgiving my synagogue was targeted with hateful graffiti covering the entire building, sending ripple effects of fear throughout our community,” Cypers said. “When my kids and I attend services or Hebrew school, we now have to traverse barricades and armed guards to enter the building. This is our reality. The problem of hate is urgent.”

The FBI reports Washington State had 590 hate crimes in 2022, 651 in 2021 and 462 in 2020. Though data for more recent years are not yet available, persons testifying perceived an increase in hate crime in their communities, especially since last fall.

Kendall Kosai, a Japanese American serving as a board member for Asian Pacific American Advocates, explained how this hotline will open closed doors for victims.

“It is no secret that API's (Asian & Pacific Islanders) have experienced a recent surge in hate across our country with over 11,000 unique hate acts reported from 2020 to 2022. However, many of these incidents don't rise to a level of our crime, and thus oftentimes are not captured by conventional hate crime data.”

Kosai added some people don’t always feel comfortable reporting to officials at a school or workplace, a point supported by others who testified.

“This is just another resource for them, and to allow them to report it,” Kosai said. “What we see in Oregon with the hotline is actually that they help mediate or become that third party that helps them navigate those systems of reporting to a school.”

The bill mandates that the person who reported the incident to the hotline must consent before their identity is released to law enforcement. The law will go into effect starting June.