Examining hate crimes on the Eastside

The Anti-Defamation League has been tracking hate-fueled crimes and incidents to paint a picture of trends in communities.

There have been fliers in Bellevue, graffiti in Sammamish and photos of student gestures on Mercer Island — all actions taking on an anti-Semitic tone.

The trend of hate-fueled incidents and crimes has spiked.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been tracking both hate-fueled crimes and incidents, using citizen accounts, law enforcement information and media reporting, to paint a picture of trends communities are seeing.

And it’s not a pretty one.

The ADL formed in 1913, at a time when anti-semitism was pervasive through the United States. Experts with the organization, working in the field for years, are seeing anti-Semitic incidents at higher levels than seen in recent decades — marking a resurgence in anti-semitism and all forms of hate.

Miri Cypers, Pacific Northwest regional director for the ADL, said a divisive political climate — one placing bigotry front and center — has empowered people to voice their bigoted views and act on them.

On the Eastside specifically, she has noticed new trends since last year, one of them being hate groups taking on a much more active presence east of Lake Washington. She’s noticed the spreading of hateful propaganda in local neighborhoods and communities.

“Whether in Sammamish, Bellevue or Issaquah — it seems to be because the Eastside is full of vibrant and very diverse communities,” Cypers said.

These groups may be targeting the Eastside to “push back on some of those values in the community…to see if there’s fertile ground,” she added.

Educating in schools

Recently, a photo of two Mercer Island High School students giving the Nazi salute has been circulating on social media platforms. The two students appear standing in the snow, one recreates a mustache over their mouth with their finger. Based on extrapolations from the Jewish Federation’s Greater Seattle Community Study and comparisons to US Census estimates, in 2014 approximately 23.9 percent of households on Mercer Island were Jewish, while 18 percent of Mercer Island residents were Jews.

In response to the photo, the Mercer Island School District launched an investigation and said no place on the Island exists for this type of anti-Semitism or hate speech. The district is working with its high school students to ensure they understand the impact of actions on the community.

The ADL has noticed a spike in K-12 hate incidents across the nation, Cypers said. An audit conducted last year revealed a 94 percent increase of vandalism, assaults and harassment in elementary, middle and high schools. In February, a 12-year-old boy was arrested in Queens, New York after he allegedly drew swastikas and other anti-Semitic depictions in a school yard.

“I think the situation is really serious,” Cypers said. “Kids are parroting what they’re seeing.”

What they’re seeing in the media, in public, at home and in schools, she said.

“Schools are microcosms for what is happening in society,” Cypers said. “Kids are young people just developing, learning sense of self, struggling with different aspects of identity. It’s even more important to offer kids anti-bias training to deal with these kinds of issues.”

Students, partaking in education programs on bias, are often taught the pyramid of hate — an illustration used to convey that hate is a progressive thing, not coming from nowhere.

“It can start smaller and sometimes seem not as remarkable or noticeable in the form of jokes or subtle racism,” Cypers said.

Overtime, this escalates. But it can be undone. Cypers advocated for a collaborative, united approach when addressing these issues in schools.

“It does take a village to combat these types of incidents,” she said.

Reporting hate crimes

FBI numbers show an upward trend in bias-motivated crimes across the nation, having risen three consecutive years in a row. The term is defined as “a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” From 2016-17, the number rose by 17 percent. Locally, in 2017, there were 16 hate crimes in Bellevue — a majority of them being race and ethnicity motivated.

While the increase in numbers can partly be attributed to increased hate crime reporting across departments and more people coming forward to report the bias, some organizations still call for improvements to be made in reporting. Following the release of these numbers last year, the Japanese American Citizens League said they noticed several well-documented hate crimes not captured in the numbers.

Among them was the Oregon murders of Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. The two men were stabbed on a Portland train, after intervening when a man was shouting racial slurs and harassing two teenage girls.

David Inoue, executive director of the JACL said fundamentally, the biggest problem is that the hate crime reporting system continues to be voluntary, meaning entire jurisdictions do not participate.

“Look at some of the reports, there are zeros for some major cities when at least one hate crime happened in that place,” he said.

Other issues exist in officer training, to be able to discern the bias motivation from crimes with multiple motivations. Department of Justice outreach program deductions and high officer turnover — thanks to retiring baby boomers — can complicate a department’s ability to distinguish a hate crime.

And bias-fueled actions, not rising to the level of a crime, are often not represented in reporting.

“Harassment…is a part of daily life for many people not captured in hate crime statistics but part of bias people face every day because of who they are,” Inoue said.

With the tense political climate, he said immigrants aren’t likely to report crimes to the police. They live in fear of deportation. Japanese Americans during World War II were swept up by FBI agents, many of them spending the duration of the war detained.

“The same type of thing is happening now — there are raids on Southeast Asian communities by ICE for deportation,” Inoue said.

And a general mistrust is formed.

Bridges into communities

Community outreach efforts in local departments have intensified and events are happening to forge bonds with diverse cohorts. Among them is the third Eastside Muslim Immigrant Safety Forum. It brought the police chiefs from five Eastside cities together at Sammamish High School on Feb. 21.

It was there that the chiefs vocalized that people should not hesitate to call on authorities for help. Collectively the chiefs came together — after the 2016 presidential election — and united over how they would handle immigration. They do not ask immigration status of people and nor do their staff, given that immigration is a federal issue. It’s only in certain circumstance, including homicide, where it may be an issue.

“We recognize when people fear law enforcement and interaction with law enforcement…They’re going to be reluctant to report crime to us,” said Redmond Police Chief Kristi Wilson.

Wilson made note of a sign vandalized outside of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) mosque in her city. Twice in December 2016 someone destroyed the metal sign.

“Sometimes out of really horrible situations, really positive things come out,” she said. “It really was a time in our community when everyone was unsure…with how to respond to that. What would drive somebody to do that? What’s the message behind that?”

The positive thing that came from it was the large amount of people from different communities — including those of different faiths — coming together to provide support for MAPS. A new sign was resurrected and continues to stand today.

“We as a community can’t stand for this,” Wilson said. “We have to take a stand and actually stand up for all members of our community.”

Correction: This story was corrected to say that in 2014 approximately 23.9 percent of households on Mercer Island were Jewish.

Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett speaks at the third Eastside Muslim Immigrant Safety Forum in February. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo

Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett speaks at the third Eastside Muslim Immigrant Safety Forum in February. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo