Hate crime survivors press for tougher Oregon bias laws
Advocates say there are no powerful interest groups aligned against a new proposal in Salem strengthening Oregon's hate crimes law.
But the legislation, Senate Bill 577, still costs money — at a time when lawmakers' purse strings are being pulled in many, many directions.
"We have resource issues," said Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon.
Currently, first-degree hate offenses must involve two or more people, and acts motivated by the perception of a person's gender identity can't be charged as hate crimes — in contrast to crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, disability status or country of origin.
Senate Bill 577 would change that, rewriting large portions of a criminal code that was created in 1981 in order to combat the rise of skinhead gangs across Oregon. The Department of Justice would hire a Hate Crimes Response Coordinator and monitor a new crisis phone line for victims.
Hate crimes — technically known as crimes of intimidation — would be legally termed bias crimes. The bill would also create a uniform system for parsing hate crime data, which would be collected by the Oregon State Police and local district attorneys.
"We don't have good reporting systems on hate crimes, and a lot of incidents go unreported," said Nancy Haque, the executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. "It looks like there's so many more hate crimes in Eugene, but what we know is there are hate crimes all across the state."
According to a fiscal impact statement, the bill would cost the DOJ at least $424,288 in its first two years, plus $235,476 per biennium in start-up costs for the Criminal Justice Commission. The Oregon State Police would need $9,900 to update their software.
Legislative staffers were unable to determine a price for each of Oregon's 36 district attorneys, but the Multnomah County D.A. said they would need to hire a half-time legal assistant.
Undeterred, the backers of Senate Bill 577 were joined by the survivors of hate crimes on Wednesday, June 5 in Northeast Portland.
Larnell Bruce spoke of the death of his son, Larnell Bruce Jr., at the hands of Russell Courtier outside a Gresham 7-Eleven in 2016. Courtier — who had joined the European Kindred during a previous stint in prison — was found guilty on several charges, including second degree intimidation and murder, earlier this year.
"When he died, it really ruined our family in a horrible way," Bruce Sr. said. "If SB 577 was in effect, my son's murderer would have gotten a felony charge for a hate crime."
"Once people start seeing the extensive sentences, it would probably deter them from reacting that way, and physically hurting someone," said Michelle Weaver, a daughter of Bruce Sr.
Demetria Hester — who testified in late April against the MAX stabbing suspect Jeremy Christian, provoking the accused killer to shout "I'm the victim" in court — said SB 577 would bring a survivor-centered approach to hate crimes.
"We don't have a support system," Hester said. "We're victimized over and over again by the system. Where's our help?"
Senate Bill 577 remains in a Senate committee.