Responding to Hate in Central Oregon‏

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May 23rd, 2013

Dear ROPnetters:

Just over two months ago, the March for ONE Oregon bus tour departed from Central Oregon, traveling the state to advocate for immigrant fairness and just immigration reform.  Their kick-off event took place at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend.  With banners, signs, and chants, marchers walked through downtown calling for immigration fairness. The evening news featured interviews with immigrants and allies, and made it very clear that events were being hosted at Trinity Episcopal. Only hours after hosting an event for equality and fairness, someone or some people threw rocks, broke windows, and set multiple fires inside and around Trinity Episcopal Church.

Over the last several months human dignity leaders in Central Oregon have been having a conversation about the arson, about hate crimes, and about racism and hate in their community.

It hasn’t been an easy conversation. No one wants to believe that a hate crime can happen in their community. It can feel easier to deny that an action is motivated by hate than to face what it means when hate does strike.  Yet, if we don’t respond, then the perpetrators will assume the community is complacent. Floyd Cochrane, a former recruiter of the Aryan Nations, stated that Aryan Nations would try to set up in communities where no one responded to their initial presence. They interpreted silence in the face of their activities as tacit approval.

This week a coalition of human dignity leaders are hosting an event to discuss hate and hate crimes, the arson at Trinity, and racial prejudice in Central Oregon:

A Community Conversation On Prejudice, Hatred and Healing
May 23, 2013 – 3:15 to 4:45 p.m.
Wille Hall, COCC Campus Center
2600 NW College Way, Bend, OR

In addition, this coalition of human dignity leaders has also put together this letter to the Central Oregon community to create context on the arson, educate folks about hate crimes, and share strategies and reflections on responding.  Exerpts from the letter are also shared below.

The work of justice is never easy, and addressing violent crimes can be some of the hardest work we do as human dignity leaders. Congratulations to those in Central Oregon who have led the conversation.  And come meet them in person at the Rural Caucus & Strategy Session on Saturday, June 8th in Woodburn and join us for our strategy session on “Race in the Next 20 Years”.

Warmly, Cara

An Open Letter on the March 6 Arson Fires at Trinity Episcopal Church and Nearby Area

What We Know About the Arson Fires*
Media reports indicate that the arsonists hurled rocks through windows at Trinity Episcopal Church and appeared to break into the building through a door. St Helen’s Hall was attacked in a similar way. Investigators believe the arsonists set fires inside both church buildings. To date, law enforcement have not reported on the motivation for these fires, but are treating them as arson.

Fire Department officials also reported smaller fires in two detached garages, two cars and a wood pile along a nearby alley between Jefferson Place and St. Helen’s Place.

Hate Crimes Are Community Crimes
A “hate crime” is a violent crime or act of intimidation motivated by hatred, bias or prejudice based on actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or ethnicity of the victim. (See box below). According to Suzanne Pharr,* hate crimes can take the form of intimidation (threatening phone calls, hate, name-calling), vandalism, cross burning, destruction of religious, rape, assault, arson, and murder.  “The intent of a hate crime is both to harm the victim and to intimidate the larger group or class of people to whom the victim belongs.” Suzanne Pharr

Hate crimes also rob us of peace and of hope. When a hate crime occurs, no one feels safe or secure. There is a sense of grief and outrage. Hate crimes are felt both as a personal violation of the victim and of all of those who share identity with the victim. They say to us, “There is no place for you and your kind. Because of who you are, you also are in jeopardy. You are equally vulnerable.”

Turning Hatred Into Healing
It is difficult for any community to accept the possibility that a hate crime has occurred in its midst.  But hate crimes can happen anytime, anywhere, even in places that have worked hard to address inequality and prejudice.

Though a hate crime is not an indictment of an entire community, communities must join together to respond to potential hate crimes.  Floyd Cochrane, a former recruiter of the Aryan Nations, has told Rural Organizing Project that Aryan Nations would try to set up in communities where no one responded to their initial presence. They interpreted silence in the face of their activities as tacit approval.

Ensuring that hate groups do not gain a foothold in our area is obviously crucial.  And we also need to address the less obvious, but still damaging atmosphere of intolerance and fear that can create, or be created by, actual or potential hate crimes. A local high school student describes such an atmosphere on the next page. Acceptance and constructive action are essential to healing the wounds caused by hatred and building a stronger community.

Hate Crimes Laws in More Detail
Federal Law: According to the FBI  “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.”  Under federal law, a hate crime occurs when someone willfully causes or attempts to cause bodily injury or death to a person based on based onactual or perceived race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or ethnicity of the victim.  Federal hate crimes are felonies. 18 USC § 249 (a) and (b). See FBI “Hate Crimes Overview”, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/hate_crimes/overview.  The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996,  makes intentionally damaging religious properties a federal crime when racially motivated or involving interstate commerce. Such attacks are treated as potential hate crimes, triggering available federal assistance to local officials. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 247

Oregon Law:  In Oregon, hate crimes fall under  “Intimidation”,  defined as intentionally causing harm or fear of imminent harm to another person or property based on the “perception of the other’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.” ORS 166.155 and 166.156.  Intimidation is a Class A Misdemeanor, but is a Class C Felony when more than one person is involved.  ORS 30.190 creates a civil claim for intimidation. (“Sexual orientation” is defined as heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.). See http://www.partnersagainsthate.org/laws/list-of-hate-crime-laws.html?state=or

A Local Student’s Revealing Response
Central Oregon has been my home for 11 years and it has captured my heart. Born in Mexico City but raised in Redmond, Oregon, I consider myself American. Central Oregon is well known for its strong community. We stick together and we fight together.  My Mother, Enriqueta, has been involved in many community activities ever since I can remember, and now she is becoming more active to raise the level of the Latino voice in our community.

She recently met with other community leaders from Central Oregon to go on a bus tour from Bend to Madras, Hood River, La Grande, Idaho and Walla Walla, Washington to raise awareness in these communities regarding the growing challenges facing our fellow immigrants and to empower our Hispanic community to confidently employ their collective powers. They gathered in the Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend on a Tuesday afternoon. This church has been very supportive, not only to our Hispanic community but to our community as a whole, helping a diverse variety of groups, such as the homeless, undocumented, poor and underserved, LGBTQ as well as a host of others for the past 15 years.  Early on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, the Episcopal Church was set on fire.

There could be many reasons for why this devastating event occurred, including no reason at all.  But knowing that only hours before the attack my mother was in that same building along with other community leaders getting ready to go on the bus tour to raise the voice of our fellow immigrants that are struggling for fair immigration reform,

I am scared to think that there may be some racial motivations behind it. When my mother and other bus riders heard about the attack they felt very disturbed and hurt by the possibility that this could have been done to harm or intimidate them.

I know that there could be many reasons for the attack but why now? Why, when the immigrants voice is getting louder? When we are not willing to stay in the shadows anymore, when we have enough support to get what we deserve. Why now, when we are willing to confront rather than hide?

The thought of this being a potential hate crime is very disturbing, but the fact that there is racism and hate in our town has to be discussed. As a society, we like to think that such events only happen elsewhere; the thing is that it is present in our town, and more specifically it is present is in our schools. Being a senior at Redmond High School, a certain division has been part of my high school experience. Walking through the halls you can see and feel a separation of the Latinos and the non-Latinos and the tension.

Verbal comments are common at our school such as “speak English”, “this is America”, and “beaners”. This is a reason why many might feel intimidated by the recent attack. Most high school kids tend to ignore rather than confront this harassment, including myself. This is something in our everyday life and we tend to put up with it but it is time we stop just ignoring these racially motivated actions and start shining a light on them.

Wendy, Redmond High School, Class of 2013

NEXT STEPS — What You Can Do
When faced with the possibility of hate crime, our most important work is to support the victims their loved ones, to pursue justice, to come together as a community to grieve, to, and to organize for a world where hate crimes never occur. (Suzanne Pharr)

Drawing from many social justice movements, we have learned that one way to address both grief and fear is by taking appropriate community action.  A few suggestions follow for you to take individually, or in alliance with others.

Write Your Local Paper
Consider writing a letter to the editor or opinion piece for publication in the Bulletin, Source or other local paper. It helps spread awareness that hate crimes do exist, seek a prompt response from federal and local investigators, encourage investigative journalism, call for a community united in solidarity, etc. It will also help keep the Trinity fires on the “front burner” in the public mind.  Our future is what we, along with others, make it. By coming together and speaking out, we can work together to make a difference and prevent future tragedies.

Create Welcoming Communities
Most of us recognize and honor the unparalleled contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the causes of equality and justice. We see one of Dr. King’s concepts, “the Beloved Community,” as especially timely and relevant today.

Colleagues and followers of Dr. King believe the “Beloved Community” is the key to a permanent transformation of society from racist and segregated to more egalitarian and integrated. Inspired by the Beloved Community idea, human dignity groups are working in 19 states, including Oregon, to create Welcoming Communities. A Welcoming Community is one where food, shelter, jobs, and educations are available to all regardless of race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. It is a place of safety and inclusion, not segregation or intolerance. You can find more information and links for tools at https://rop.org/welcoming-communities/.

Not In Our Town Video
Many of you may remember the efforts of the Rural Organizing Projects (ROP) in the early 2000’s to involve local communities in the national “Not in Our Town” campaign.  Groups sponsored community showings of this moving documentary and families invited neighbors into their living rooms. Central Oregon Groups held a showing and follow-up actions in 2003 after a violent attack on a young gay man in Bend.

The “Not in Our Town,” story is about everyday citizens in Billings, Montana and how they came together to stop hate groups from terrorizing their town. It is an inspiring story that dramatically reveals the critical role we each play in creating a community that is truly safe and welcoming for all its residents.  A DVD and talking points are available from the ROP (rop.org) and more information is available at niot.org.

 

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