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Keep Portland Safe!

Keep Portland Safe!

Portland JACL Newsletter: July 2011 Issue
(click here for the latest issue)

Board Member’s Message
by John Kodachi

Keep Portland Safe!

Portland JACL 2011 Scholarship

Our unofficial motto of “Keep Portland Weird!” is in jeopardy. Portland’s quirky image of naked bike parades, middle-aged business people playing organized kickball games, and friendly food carts on every corner is being tarnished by a rash of disturbing violence. This year alone, the city is gripping with forty-one separate incidents of gang-related shootings. And the summer just started. Additionally, we’ve seen several hate crimes reported recently.

On June 25th, two men were arrested in downtown after they approached a man to ask for directions. The man responded by providing them directions. The two men then asked if the man was gay. After he said “Yes,” the two men reportedly called him derogatory slurs and attacked him. Minutes later, a good samaritan named Andrew Smith, who happened to be walking by, tried to intervene, but was severely beaten by the two men. Smith was hospitalized after the men kicked him in his head several times, repeatedly smashing his face into the asphalt. And on May 22nd in a separate incident, two gay men were beaten at Waterfront Park by several young men.

These recent incidents of hate crimes, which are defined as crimes that “manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” are certainly unsettling. Fortunately, however, the reported number of hate crimes in Portland is declining, not increasing. According to news reports, thirty-eight hate crimes were reported in Portland during 2010 versus an average of sixty-six in previous years. This local decline is consistent with a recent study of hate crimes published last month by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) (http:// bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/). The BJS examined statistics from 2003 to 2009 and reported the following conclusions:

  • The number of hate crimes declined from 239,400 in 2003 to 148,400 in 2009.

  • Eighty-eight percent of hate crimes were perceived by the victims to be motivated by race, ethnicity, or both.

  • Ninety-eight percent of hate crime victims reported the offender used hate-related language.

  • Eighty-seven percent of hate crimes involved violence.

While it’s positive to read that hate crimes are declining, the study did not explain the reason for the decline. Interestingly, Jack McDevitt, a criminology professor of Northeastern University, reportedly told the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is a civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, some apparent reasons for the decline. McDevitt concluded it was due to the shrinking population of 16-to 24-year-olds, effective community policing strategies, and diminished use of crime-associated drugs.

Personally, I would like to think that another reason for the decline is that our society has finally embraced diversity and tolerance—that the blood, sweat, and tears of a previous generation’s hard work towards equality and understanding are bearing fruit. However, it’s not time to bust out the acoustic guitar and sing Kumbaya, not yet anyways.

As any history buff will tell you, rampant poverty, high unemployment, a loss of confidence in the government, etc., can quickly foment civil unrest and extreme ideologues who look to others as scapegoats to vent their frustration and aggression. Yes, the decline of hate crimes over the last decade is something to celebrate, but it’s also a statistic we need to keep a careful eye on moving forward through this “economic recovery” we’re in. Let’s keep Portland weird, but let’s also keep Portland safe!

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