November 21 2019
Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases national hate crime statistics.
According to that data, hate crimes in Oregon are up by 40 percent from 2016 to 2017.
But there are limits to the data.
Of the 214 Oregon agencies that participate in the FBI's hate crime tracking program, just 29 agencies submitted incident reports for 2017. And it's widely understood that hate crimes go underreported nationwide. Oregon is no exception.
"The data is grossly incomplete and inaccurate," said Arjun Singh Sethi, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and editor of American Hate: Survivors Speak Out, a book that includes interviews with the two young women at the center of the fatal MAX train stabbing in Portland last year.
"And that's because the FBI data relies on voluntary reporting by local police. It's not mandatory," he said.
The data shows 146 hate crimes reported in 2017, compared to 104 in 2016.
A majority of jurisdictions in Oregon reported zero hate crimes to the FBI.
Among them was Clackamas County, where at least two known hate crimes were prosecuted last year, according to the Clackamas County district attorney's office.
Political advocacy groups that work with politically underrepresented communities were quick to dismiss the data as at least partially illegitimate because of such omissions — and disagreement with law enforcement over how hate crimes are classified.
FBI data shows Oregon had zero documented murder or non-negligent manslaughter hate crimes in 2017.
Kai Wiggins, a policy analyst with the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., said that's despite the high-profile murders of two people on a Portland MAX train last summer.
The alleged assailant, Jeremy Christian, faces aggravated murder charges for killing two and stabbing a third.
But the Portland Police Bureau, which submitted 18 known hate crimes to the FBI in 2017, said it "believes" the hate crime charges against the MAX train assailant are for the intimidation of the two girls who were allegedly berated with racial slurs on the train. One of them was wearing a hijab.
Christian faces just two counts of intimidation for his actions toward the two young women. Those are hate crime charges in the state of Oregon.
"At this time in the investigation, the deaths of the two men have not been identified as a bias crime, the case remains open and has not been adjudicated," said Sgt. Chris Burley, spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau.
In other words, the deaths are not included in the FBI report.
"When we continue to find these kind of omissions or discrepancies, that puts the overall integrity of the data in question," Wiggins said.
The data also show almost half of all hate crimes in Oregon occurred in the city of Eugene, which has the state's most robust process for documenting hate crimes in the state and perhaps the country. City officials say that process accounts, in part, for the inflated numbers.
Katie Babits, a human rights and equity analyst with Eugene's Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement, acknowledges the numbers of hate crimes are higher than they were from the year before.
"There's definitely a connotation that people feel more emboldened to act on hate," Babbits said. "But our outreach has increased, and our work with Eugene PD became more in depth. … We go through a lot of lengths and detail to be able to capture as many hate crimes as we can."