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MET's annual Building Bridges conference works to lessen descrimation, and tensions between police and citizens.

The Muslim Educational Trust, 10330 Scholls The Muslim Educational Trust in Tigard hosted the Fourth Annual Building Bridges conference Thursday, bringing together local police, elected officials, civic leaders and people of different religions together.

By Photographer Jaime Valdez
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An estimated 350 law enforcement officials, government and civic leaders, and members of the community packed into Tigard's Muslim Educational Trust Thursday to listen to noted speakers, share ideas and learn about ways to prevent hate-motivated incidents.

The gathering was the fourth of what has become an annual event: Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities.

This year's opening remarks came from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams, the Muslim Educational Trust's Wajdi Said, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett, Baptist Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee and Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Said, executive director of the Muslim Educational Trust, kicked off the summit, whose theme this year was "Confronting Hate," telling those gathered that while society is not the same as it was 100 years, he was still filled with hope.

"There are so many individuals that love and respect one another and we need these individuals to be bold to be courageous to be loving and to be responsible as well," said Said.

He noted that it's not only Muslims who are living through challenging times but those in Latino and Jewish communities as well. He urged those in attendance not to mock or despise one another.

The Koran, he said, teaches followers to "meet evil with good, meet hate with kindness and love, and your worse enemy will soon become your best enemy."

Later, Said made the audience repeat the words: "We refuse to be enemies."

Sheriff Garrett, a co-founder of the Building Bridges event, said he always learns something each year he attends.

"And I'm glad you're here today too so we can work together to improve the prevention and response to traumatic events in crimes motivated by hate and bigotry," he said. "As we know, these crimes target our communities of color, religions, sexual orientation."

He noted that many hate crimes go unreported due to lack of trust or a belief that reporting such incidents could attract the attention of immigration authorities.

"As civil rights investigator Ann Van Dyke said, 'Silence is the welcome mat for hate,'" said Garrett, adding that silence tells perpetrators of hate crimes that their actions will be tolerated while making victims feel they aren't valued enough for people to speak out against them.

Garrett said that law enforcement will take the action available under the law to hold those responsible.

"Everyone deserves our love, respect and ability to feel safe in our community."

Oregon Attorney General Rosenblum said she appreciated everyone taking a day to share, learn and confront hate, emphasizing that when she travels around the state, she has heard of prejudices many Oregonians experience in both big and small towns alike.

Rosenblum pointed out her new director of civil rights, Fay Stetz-Waters, who later spoke about Oregon's new "bias crimes legislation," is making a real difference in the community. The Oregon Attorney General said what's important about the legislation is it supports survivors of bias crimes, whether or not those incidents are prosecutable by the law.

"We will be able to help anyone who feels they were the target of hate in their community," she said. "Let's face it, no relationship flourishes without open and honest communication, which is why looking at all of you who took the time to be here on this lovely fall morning, makes me so hopeful for the future of our state."

Praising the Building Bridges series as a chance to bring together law enforcement and the community members to understand each other and address racial and ethnic disparities, U.S. Oregon Attorney Williams said he too agrees that the country is in a very challenging time when people are targeted with hate speech, violence and intolerance because of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or identity.

"What is occurring is unacceptable," he said. "Together we can and must do something about it. Hateful words are able to grow acts of violence. Words matter now more than ever because they have the power to both heal and find comfort or to destroy."

He acknowledged that those in marginalized communities may not trust public safety leaders, the justice system or the political process.

"That is a fact that we need to acknowledge daily in law enforcement and community leaders and not be afraid to take it head on," he said. "We must acknowledge we have a shameful history of mistreatment of people of color in this country but together we are not powerless to do what is right, fair and just."

At the same time, he said the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it was releasing additional resources and training to improve law enforcement investigation of hate crimes as well as creating a hate crimes outreach and engagement program designed to address the underreporting of those crimes.

"Again, one of the No. 1 issues is the under reporting of hate crimes. We're getting better at it but we need those suffer from these attacks to report them," Williams said. "I'd like to proudly assure you and I have loudly confessed this to my colleagues across the country, that this community is leading the way on addressing these very difficult issues."

He said the Building Bridges event is one he's shared it with those in law enforcement who are impressed with what the annual program has done to show leadership.

As keynote comments wrapped up, Rabbi Barnett talked about the Torah and the story of Moses being sent adrift down the Nile River before being found by the Pharaoh's daughter after her father had decreed all male Hebrew children should be drown. Barnett said she took the child as her own and while she may have initially thought like her father did -- that these individuals are not even human -- she likely experienced compassion for the child.

"And I think about that for all of us, as a blessing and challenge for all of us," he said. "No matter where we are in our lives, when we encounter someone different we have certain assumptions about who they are and who they're not … can we be open for that human moment to sneak through and for us to have compassion regardless of whatever policies we support or how we see the world?"

Barnett ended by playing his guitar, singing a song in Hebrew called "Salom" (Arabic for peace).

The final participant to offer opening remarks was the Rev. Hennessee, who is pastor at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church. He described everyone attending the event as a "bridge builder."

"Working together and confronting hate is not somebody else's job, it is our job," he said. "That's the first thing that bridge builders understand, that we are not going to stand around and wait for somebody else, we're going to stand up and do the work ourselves."

Among the members of law enforcement attending the event was Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine, who said what she likes about the annual Building Bridges summit is that fit continues to build upon what everyone has learned the previous year, pointing out there's "value in in people coming back."

This was the third Building Bridges event McAlpine has attended. She spent the previous weekend at the Multi-City Equity Summit held in Lake Oswego, an event also designed to create communities that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

Meanwhile, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, whose office helped found the Building Bridges event, said he was pleased with Thursday's gathering.

"We had record attendance and a robust, meaningful discussion about topics important to our community," said Barton, who along with Stephen Mayor, Washington County District Attorney public information officer, serve on the event's steering community. "I hope Building Bridges sent several messages to both those in the audience and those who joined us via social media."

(Although there were approximately 65 "no shows" at the event, that number was offset by 60 to 70 "walk-ins.")

Barton said he has found the event is well received by members in the justice system community, that the summit is a way to build trust in the community and that it requires a community effort to be a success.

"In our participatory democracy, we all share a collective responsibility to get involved, to voice our opinions and concerns, and to work toward a solution," he said. "Building Bridges helps to make that connection between government and community so we can work together to our common goal."

Building Bridges participants by the numbers:

Community members – 67

Law Enforcement – 62

Government (non-law enforcement) – 72

Non-governmental organization - 97

Unknown – approximately 50

Source: Washington County District Attorney's Office

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