May 5, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 18
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Bias crimes in Seattle detailed in new report
Bias crimes in Seattle detailed in new report
Nearly half of all bias crimes are committed against Gays

by Manny Frishberg - SGN Contributing Writer

Hate crimes and assaults on Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender people continue to plague supposedly liberal Seattle, according to a new report issued this week by the Hate Crime Awareness Project of the Seattle LBGT Community Center. The report, based on Seattle Police Department incident reports, covers the six years from 2000 through 2005 and shows that bias-motivated attacks impact every Seattle neighborhood.

Hate crimes and the fear of violence threaten people's sense of safety and well-being throughout Washington communities and especially in schools. According to a press release from the Seattle LGBT Community Center and Safe Schools Coalition, "racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities have been harassed, intimidated, assaulted and even murdered" in every region of the state.

Ken Molsberry, the author of the study, said over 400 bias-motivated incidents were reported by the police during that time, with racial and sexual orientation consistently making up the greatest percentage of them.

"Hate crimes and bias-motivated attacks are a problem for every neighborhood in Seattle. There is no neighborhood where these types of attacks don't happen," said Molsberry. He said that while statistics showed no neighborhood in the city was immune to hate, the number of incidents based on sexual orientation were highest in the First Hill/Capitol Hill/Eastlake area. In contrast, racial incidents were spread more evenly throughout the city's neighborhoods. Molsberry attributed the high number of incidents in the one area as likely the result of the area's Gay-friendly reputation, making it an easy choice for people out to target LGBT individuals. Kristina Armenakis of the community center edited the report.

"The mission of the Hate Crime Awareness Project is to raise community awareness about bias violence," said Armenakis. "The report provides insight about the scope of the problem, so it's just a really clear connection for me to work with Ken on it."

Ken Molsberry, a computer systems and data analyst for the Seattle City Attorney's Office, said he did the study on his own time and that it represents his private views. He said the only city resource used in preparing the report was the time spent by Seattle Police Department to respond to two public disclosure requests. Copying fees for the police incident reports were paid by himself and the Hate Crime Awareness Project. Molsberry said he got started on the project more than a year ago, after reading about a Gay-bashing in his own neighborhood of Ballard in an SGN article by staff reporter Robert Raketty.

"I became really concerned that a hate crime - a vicious attack - had occurred in my neighborhood and there seemed to be no information about it," he said. "It had not been in the local newspapers, there was no discussion of it in the community." Molsberry said his initial approaches to community organizations and the district council yielded no results. Following a letter writing campaign he did eventually hear from state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, one of whom contacted the Seattle Police Dept.

"The police department responded then at that point and said they had looked into their records and had miscategorized that attack and they would be recategorizing it properly." Unfortunately, he said, by the time the police began investigating it as malicious harassment, the case was cold and no one was ever charged in the incident. He said his frustration over the community apathy he encountered was the spur to doing the report.

One surprising fact Molsberry said he uncovered in preparing the report was the relatively high number of incidents connected to sexual orientation here, compared to the nation as a whole. Using FBI crime statistics for 2002-2004, he said sexual orientation bias made up 16-17 percent of this sort of crime nationwide. Nearly half of all bias crimes in Seattle, 40-50 percent, are directed at LGBT people or those perceived to be LGBT. He said that figure is the same percentage found in a 1995 study done by the Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities, known then as the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays.

In contrast, Seattle ranked significantly below the national averages for hate crimes based on race or religion in those years and roughly the same in attacks based on ethnicity and national origin. Nationwide, race accounted for about half the hate crimes logged by the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies, including both the SPD and the FBI, make a distinction between "incidents" and "crimes." As explained in a March 2005 email from Mark Howard of the Seattle Police Dept., incidents are classed as those in which no crime has been committed - such as name-calling or verbal threats that are not considered sufficiently serious to cause the person to believe he/she is in actual danger. A bias crime (the term is preferred to "hate crime" because determining someone's state-of-mind is harder that attributing bias) can include credible threats or actual violence, malicious harassment and acts such as defacing someone's property with hate symbols like a swastika. Of the 403 reports covered in the study, about a third, or144 were marked by SPD as bias crimes. The other 259 were considered incidents.

The report and the SPD data on which it is based are available online at\~kennem\biascrime.

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