Community groups enlisted to spend $350,000 in city funds to document incidents and seek responses

COURTESY PHOTO  - Jeremy Christian is accused of harassing two young black women riding on a MAX train, one of them wearing a hijab, and then stabbing three men who came to their defense. Portland aims to curb hate crimes, which have surged since Donald Trump's campaign, by kickstarting a local hate crime documentation and response system.

A new city initiative called Portland United Against Hate is now accepting applications for $350,000 in city grant money, which will be divided among 10 winning organizations by late September. The groups will be expected to design and pilot recommendations for a hate crime documentation and response system.

Earlier, the city doled out a total of $40,000 to Africa House, Asian Family Center, Coalitions of Communities of Color, Latino Network, Resolutions Northwest, Unite Oregon, Urban League of Portland and Q Center to survey a wide variety of Portlanders this summer on hate and aggression and begin community outreach.

Having city support is very promising for groups that already have been doing this work, says Shweta Moorthy, a research analyst for the Coalition of Communities of Color.

"This isn't really due to Trump's election in November — we've worked so long just fighting institutional hate and reports of violence on an everyday basis for a long time," Moorthy says.

Not reinventing the wheel

The Southern Poverty Law Center and ProPublica document hate crimes nationally, and local officials are keenly aware of that. This is not an attempt to replicate their work, says Michelle Rodriguez, management analyst for the city Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

Collecting data locally may yield more information and increase the ability of community organizations to respond to incidents of hate, she says.

Moorthy hopes a Portland-specific hate-crime documentation and response system could work well to complement the national documentation systems, and maybe eventually even inform them.

Linda Castillo, immigrant and refugee integration program coordinator of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, says the city hopes some of the pilot projects will be adapted and become ongoing practices of the city.

Ultimately, Castillo hopes this will reduce and eventually eliminate acts of hate, from racial slights and microaggressions to severe, violent behavior, which are a constant reality for many Portlanders.

"The city cares about the very diverse community that we have. We want to send a message that we're trying to build an inclusive, safe community where everybody can live and thrive," Castillo says.

Moorthy says the grants and pilot projecs will allow communities to expand their attention from short-term, emergent needs, to longer-term advocacy work. Incidents of hate like the recent MAX stabbings aren't isolated, she says, but are part of a larger pattern.

The competition between local organizations that hope to win grant money will be tough. There was standing room only at a recent information session at City Hall, and representatives of a wide variety of groups were present and asking questions.

Rania Ayoub, director of public relations at the Muslim Educational Trust, says the trust may apply for a portion of the grant money. This hate crime documentation project is much needed and very timely for her community, she says.

Data kept confidential

Although the pilot project is being funded by grant money from the city of Portland, the city will not collect or control the data yielded from the documentation and tracking systems. Rodriguez thinks this added layer of privacy will make people more likely to thoroughly report instances of hate and aggression.

"Considering the climate right now, we're really concerned that people won't answer," Rodriguez says.

Assuring people that the government isn't collecting their data may encourage them to report, she says.

Portland United Against Hate is still ironing out the details of how this will work, Castillo says, but officials intend to remove personal identifying details from incident reports, before making other information available to members of impacted community groups.

Officials from Portland United Against Hate are adamant about ensuring representation of as many marginalized communities as possible.

"We're not going to fund nine organizations that all serve the same community," Rodriguez says. A tenth organization will be selected to analyze the data.

Portland United Against Hate officials want to select organizations that are going to work for the representation and protection of all communities affected by hate crimes.

"It's OK to be narrowly focused. If your organization only works with the Latino community, don't pretend you work with everyone else. Focus on that strength," Rodriguez says. "But you will be working with other organizations. You can't have blinders on. The strength will be around the coalition and the collaboration."

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