Recently released data by the FBI shows that an upward trend in the number of hate crimes committed in the state had a slight decline in 2018. Last year, there were 506 total hate crimes reported by law enforcement in the state. That’s down from 2017, in which 513 offenses were reported.
Despite the slight decline, in 2018, Washington still managed to land at the fourth highest number of hate crimes nationwide. On Mercer Island that year, there were no hate crimes reported by law enforcement. The same was reported for 2017 and 2016. In 2015 there was a single hate crime reported on the Island. It was listed as religious based.
Every year the FBI publishes the hate crime statistics, as part of the annual Hate Crime Statistics Act. On top of this, Washington law mandates that law enforcement report their crimes to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
The trend of hate crimes targeting people based on their sexual orientation has risen again. The FBI classifies these crimes as being anti-bisexual, anti-gay, anti-heterosexual, anti-lesbian or committed against a mixed group of LGBTQ people.
In Washington in 2018, there were 106 crimes committed against someone because of their sexual orientation — an increase of more than 30 percent from 79 crimes reported in 2017. That number has trended upward since at least 2013, FBI numbers show.
“It’s staggering. These numbers just keep going up,” said Drew Griffin, Pacific Northwest regional director for PFLAG, the first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families and allies.
“It’s up to us to work hard for our communities,” Griffin said. It’s why all of the PFLAG chapter networks were mobilized to push the Equality Act forward— one that would create protections against LGBTQ discrimination when it comes to housing, employment and public services.
While it has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill sits in Congress, awaiting action.
Lack of reporting
Not all hate crimes are being documented. And advocates preach that a continued pattern of under reporting makes it difficult to get the full and accurate picture.
“Some agencies do report affirmatively, but sometimes report zero … but if you dig deeper there are probably crimes not being reported,” said Miri Cypers, the Pacific Northwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “I think there are some unfortunate discrepancies and a lot of work to have a stronger reporting system.”
The Muslim Advocates Special Counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry points to two crimes that weren’t included in the nationwide report. In 2018, an armed man drove a truck into a convenience store in Denham Springs, Louisiana. The driver suspected the owners were Muslims, the counsel said. And last March, a Muslim family was targeted in a parking lot in Carmel, California.
Some jurisdictions aren’t required to report their numbers. Hindrance can also come from a lack of officer training, making it difficult for police to discern a bias-fueled crime, and under reporting from immigrants who fear deportation.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson launched a Multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group in September. It was formed during the 2019 legislative session to help create strategies to not only raise public awareness of hate crimes, but also improve law enforcement and public response.
Cypers, who is also a member of the group, said law enforcement should have ongoing training, to refresh and ensure new trends and behaviors are addressed. And that community outreach is needed to “ensure all hate crimes are categorized the right way.”