Olympia’s Unity in the Community is right — three hate crimes in less than a month are three too many.
On Aug. 16, an African American man and his white companion were stabbed in downtown Olympia by a self-described white supremacist who cited anger toward Black Lives Matter as his motive.
On Aug. 18, the Tenino home of an African American family was covered with racist graffiti.
And on Sept.4, two women were assaulted after leaving a drag show, one of them severely beaten by an unknown man who yelled hateful slurs.
Unity in the Community asks, “Are we in the middle of a hate crime spree?” Is this reflective of a growing polarization in communities across the country?
Unity in the Community was founded in 1991 as a response to the murder of a biracial teen killed by neo-Nazis. First, members focused on supporting the victim’s family, but the group soon turned its attention to raising awareness and enacting legislation around hate crimes in Thurston County, working with local law enforcement, churches, schools and the broader community. The central message: It’s incumbent on all of us to reduce the polarization that is taking place in our society.
When we fail to engage directly and respectfully with those who are different from ourselves, we begin to accept polarization as a way of life.
We can’t place all the blame on the individuals who commit these crimes. In the words of the late Eli Weisel, “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved by indifference. “
Unity in the Community is not the only voice responding to recent events. Others include:
▪ Thurston County faith communities, which are uniting to develop a “Charter of Compassion.”
▪ The Black Alliance of Thurston County, which has been working with police departments on implicit bias and, along with the Hispanic Roundtable, conducting conversations about race.
▪ The Olympia chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (email@example.com), which organizes white people to act as part of a multiracial majority for justice.
In 2015, the Olympia Police Department, after determining that hate crimes are underreported, rolled out Safe Olympia, a partnership with downtown businesses that make themselves available as havens for victims of hate crimes.
The problem: Most of these businesses aren’t open when there’s trouble. Typically, incidents like this occur long after dark.
Unity in the Community asks us all to “stand up to the bigotry that breeds hate crimes,” to work against demonizing others and, instead, build respect and understanding across differences. That includes, as a community, protecting the health and safety of all members of our community.
Sadly, in August, just days before the first of these assaults, staffing shortages forced the Olympia Police Department to cut its nighttime foot patrols downtown. The night walking patrols are a critical part of public safety—a view our city government and this newspaper share. Olympia plans to resume the nighttime program once the department is fully staffed, but that may take as long as 18 months.
For now, there are many ways we can stand up to the bigotry that breeds hate crimes. It’s clear we all need to look out for each other and make sure everyone is safe.
Rachel Burke is a member of The Olympian’s 2016 Board of Contributors. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.