A South Eugene high school student found homosexual slurs graffitied on one of the school’s gender-inclusive restrooms. An African-American man, whose car had symbols indicating his race and military rank, found his driver’s side mirror broken and a crack in his windshield. A local nonprofit found a swastika painted on its glass window, accompanied by swear words disparaging the victim of the hate crime.
The uptick of hate and bias crimes in Eugene since the election of Donald Trump has been well documented in the media, but the reporting of individual incidents has driven the coverage more than big-picture data.
New statistics reported by the Eugene Human Rights Commission of Eugene and obtained by Eugene Weekly reveal a massive spike in the number of hate and bias crimes targeting a wide range of communities since the beginning of the year. The numbers show the reports of individual incidents are not exaggerating the situation.
During the first three months of 2017, the Eugene Police Department reported 25 hate or bias crimes to the Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement Office (HRNI), up from three over the same period in 2016. Twelve of the crimes were swastika-related.
The city is on track to double the number of hate crimes, 49, it saw in 2015, according to the most recent annual report the Humans Rights Commission has released. It plans to release the 2016 report in the coming months.
HRNI classifies crimes based on the particular community they target. In the first quarter of 2016, the organization logged two crimes targeting race and one aimed at religion. In 2017, it has logged 12 cases related to race and ethnicity, five to religion, three to sexual orientation, three to political affiliation and one targeting a transgender individual.
In addition to crimes, the Human Rights Commission tracks hate and bias incidents, which lack a criminal element and are protected as free speech. In 2015, it recorded 10 hate and bias incidents. The number of incidents reported is usually less than the number of crimes, though the two are mutually exclusive.
EPD Chief Pete Kerns says that although the trend is not unique to Eugene — the number of hate and bias crimes reported has seen a nationwide increase since the election — he is concerned about the sharpness of the spike.
“Hate and bias offenses are particularly hard on a community because the class of people or category of people, because of who they are or how they were born, are in this unchangeable condition and they are affected by it,” he says. “So that’s a pretty intimidating situation to be in.”
Kerns says the nature of the crimes makes them inherently difficult to solve. Many are graffiti or vandalism cases that happen late at night, so by the time they’re noticed it is often too late to find the suspect. Seventeen of the 25 cases are currently considered suspended with no leads; four were cleared by arrest; three are open and active; and one was determined to be unfounded.
Ken Neubeck, chair of the Human Rights Commission, says the 700-percent increase could in part be due to the city’s increased efforts to raise awareness about reporting hate and bias incidents, but that Trump and his supporters’ labeling and singling out of the Muslim and LGBTQ communities and people of color has encouraged hateful behavior.
“There’s some feeling that license has been given to people on the ground to take out some of their feelings against these groups,” Neubeck said.
Andy Gitelson, executive director of Oregon Hillel, a Jewish “home away from home” on the University of Oregon campus, says that as concerning as the increase in hate crimes is, he is somewhat “relieved” that more people now are reporting them. Hate crimes, he says, were happening long before the election of Trump.
“This is an ongoing thing that people in our minority communities have continued to face over the years,” Gitelson said. “The appalling thing to me is when people act like this is brand-new or out of the blue.”
Gitelson encourages everyone who witnesses hate crimes to continue to report them to both the Human Rights Commission and to the police.
“One of the biggest challenges with hate crimes in general is getting victims to report them,” Gitelson says. “The more we track how these things happen, the more we get a realistic picture of the world we live in.”