New WA law will allow some property crimes to be classified as hate crimes


Some property crimes could soon be prosecuted as hate crimes in Washington state if they are racially motivated or target marginalized communities.

State senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said he was motivated to change what can be classified as a hate crime when vandals poured paint on LGBTQ+ pride sidewalks in Spokane last October. He said police began pursuing the incident as a hate crime but discovered property crimes were not included in hate crime statutes.

“That didn’t seem right,” Billig said. “I saw in our community how that crime caused fear and anger, and it just added to that frustration when it wasn’t able to be pursued.”

The bill states someone could be found guilty of a hate crime if they maliciously and intentionally committed an act against the perception of another person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, or mental, physical or sensory disability.

Other members of the community remembered the days that followed the incident in Spokane last October. 

“Like most tragedies facing marginalized communities, the labor of cleaning up these attacks falls upon the shoulders of the impacted community,” said KJ January, director of advocacy at Spectrum Center Spokane. “Members of our local queer organizations came together to clean up the mess, redefining queer joy, strength and perseverance in the process.”

Betsy Wilkerson, president of the Association of Washington Cities, and city council president in Spokane, said a Black Lives Matter mural in Spokane was smeared by paint shortly after it was finished.

Others in support of the bill referenced increased Islamophobia, antisemitism, and a specific incident in Seattle’s international district where windows of the Wing Luke Museum, which focuses on culture and art of Asian Pacific Americans, were smashed last fall. 

A bill starting a statewide hate crime hotline was also approved this legislative session, sponsored by state senator Javier Valdez (D-Seattle). The hotline will be overseen by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and replicates similar programs in California and Oregon.

Miri Cypers, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League PNW, pushed to create the hotline and said a hate crime recently impacted her. 

“This Thanksgiving my synagogue was targeted with hateful graffiti covering the entire building, sending ripple effects of fear throughout our community,” Cypers said. “When my kids and I attend services or Hebrew school, we now have to traverse barricades and armed guards to enter the building. This is our reality. The problem of hate is urgent.”

The FBI reports Washington had 590 hate crimes in 2022, 651 in 2021 and 462 in 2020. Though data for more recent years are not yet available, persons testifying perceived an increase in hate crime in their communities, especially since last fall.

The bill mandates that the person who reported the incident to the hotline must consent before their identity is released to law enforcement. The laws will go into effect in June.

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