Oregon finalized two provisions strengthening hate crime protections in the state on Wednesday, adding gender identity as a protected class and preventing perpetrators of hate crimes from receiving only misdemeanor sentences if they acted alone.
These reforms come in the wake of new data from both the FBI and nonprofits showing Oregon near the top of lists of hate crimes rates across the country over the past few years.
According to the FBI, reports of hate crimes in Oregon rose 40 percent between 2016 and 2017 alone. However, SafeHome.org, a home security company which also does market research, conducted their own study, claiming the FBI’s report was “incomplete.”
SafeHome.org’s study showed a 125 percent increase in hate crimes reported in Oregon between 2013 and 2017, the sixth-largest increase in the country. One of its most dramatic findings was a 380 percent increase in reported hate crimes in Eugene alone during that period.
However, as SafeHome.org notes about the FBI report, “nearly 20 million Americans live in jurisdictions that did not report their hate crime statistics to the [FBI] for the most recent reporting year.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately two-thirds of hate crimes in the country go unreported.
Reporting from late 2018 showed that, according to FBI data, Oregon reported zero “murder or non-negligent manslaughter hate crimes” in 2017. In 2017, a man named Jeremy Christian allegedly stabbed three men, killing two, who attempted to stop Christian from harassing and threatening two African-American women on the MAX train.
The loophole closed as part of these new regulations was provoked by the situation with Christian, who may have faced only misdemeanor hate crimes charges because he acted alone.
The FBI relies on individual jurisdictions voluntarily submitting hate crime data, which not all are willing to do. For example, many jurisdictions in Oregon report zero hate crimes over an entire year. By comparison, reports of hate crimes are high in the city of Eugene, but that may be partly due to efforts on the part of the city government to help people to come forward and report these crimes when they happen. As data, this is expressed as a spike in hate crimes, when it may be the results of documenting these crimes properly for the first time.
By Ian MacRonald