Raise your voice against hate


PHOTO: Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford talks to students about the importance of voice. Photo by Deborah Moon

On election day, I had the absolute pleasure meeting Oregon’s 9th Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at Maimonides Jewish Day School. He spoke with the warmest of voices to the children in the most majestic way – the children were so attentive to his every word.

He read a poem he wrote that morning. In the poem he said the two most important things we have as American citizens are “a voice and a vote.” He said each person’s vote is important, yet it hides in a box and is counted among many others. But we each have a singular voice that can be heard around the world. We have to make sure we use both.

One area where we need our voices heard loudly is standing up to hate. This week, the Jewish Community Relations Council heard from Aaron Knott, the legislative director for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Mr. Knott staffs the AG’s Hate Crimes Task Force (Federation’s Bob Horenstein serves as a member), which includes representatives from communities that have been affected by hate crimes (Muslim, Sikh, African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, in addition to our own Jewish community). Also serving on the task force are district attorneys, law enforcement officials and two state senators.

Mr. Knott explained that since the 2016 elections, Oregon has had the highest increase in reported hate crimes of any state in the nation! The task force is looking at correcting certain inconsistencies in the current statutes and rendering these laws more effective. The term “hate crimes,” Mr. Knott noted, does not even appear in the state’s laws that are used to prosecute hate crimes, nor is language of what constitutes a “protected class” (race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc.) consistent across the relevant laws that are presently on the books.

The biggest challenges in prosecuting hate crimes are: 1) that the motive of the suspect — that the suspect committed the crime due to the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. — must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; and 2) that Oregon offers more protection to offensive speech than most other states.

Mr. Knott said the task force is looking at how to improve the reporting of hate crimes. He noted that the current data on hate crimes is not reliable as some counties are not reporting at all. Not all hate incidents are even reported to the police because, for example, victims in certain communities — e.g., the immigrant community — have a significant degree of mistrust of the police. The task force is also reviewing the remedies (civil suits, restitution, state funds for trauma counseling) that are available to victims and whether these might be broadened. Mr. Knott said that the AG will introduce new hate crimes legislation in the 2019 session but that it’s too early to know what the specific proposals will be.

Our JCRC will be watching and active with its voice.

The Interfaith Coalition for Dignity, representing a diversity of faith and ethnic communities in Greater Portland – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – is asking people to sign a pledge stating, “While interacting with members of my own faith, ethnicity, and or gender community, as well as with others; if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to STAND UP for the other and use my voice to challenge bigotry in any form.” Please click hear to sign the pledge.

 

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Marc N. Blattner is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. This piece is condensed from his Marc’s Remarks email sent out Nov. 9.

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