“Not in our town”: Eugene community pushes back against recent hate crime
When southwest Eugene residents awoke Wednesday morning, April 25, they found their neighborhood vandalized with swastikas and symbols of white supremacy.
Overnight, the hateful messages were spray-painted across sidewalks, signs, trees and garbage cans. The vandalism reached the south edge of Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School, where the words “white power” were scrawled across a sidewalk. The day before, vandals also defaced signs in residents’ yards with swastikas.
On April 25, the city and the Eugene Police received multiple calls reporting the graffiti near West 18th Avenue and Chambers Street. Because the vandalism was motivated by and contained messages of hate, the city considers it a hate crime.
Reports of hate incidents and crimes like the vandalism in Eugene shot up nearly 70 percent last year, according to the city’s 2017 Hate and Bias Report. That’s 139 in 2017 versus 82 in 2016. But community members aren’t standing by while their neighborhoods are vandalized. Residents are hitting the streets in targeted responses to the hate crimes: the Stop Hate Campaign.
“We have to show the people that are expressing this hate that it’s not acceptable,” said Stop Hate volunteer Do Mi Stauber.
Stop Hate is a community network of volunteers organized by the nonprofit Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) that coordinates responses to local hate activity.
Stauber and about 20 other volunteers spent Saturday, April 28, in a door-to-door leafleting campaign in the vandalized neighborhoods. The group asked local businesses to post bright red signs in their windows that read “Hate Free Zone,” and spoke with neighborhood residents about the hate crime, providing flyers with law enforcement and city phone numbers.
“We do this to send a message to the broader community that we don’t want any hate anywhere in Lane County. The message is ‘not in our town,’” said Michael Carrigan, co-director of programs at CALC.
Stop Hate coordinates with CALC’s Back to Back: Allies for Human Dignity program, which cultivates safety and respect in communities.
“We’re showing these folks that we have their backs. Together, we will take these people on,” Carrigan said.
Brittany Judson, coordinator for Back to Back, worries incidents like this could escalate, especially because the vandalism was so widespread.
“I don’t think graffiti incidents like this should be taken lightly. It’s planned. It’s coordinated,” said Judson. “It’s a big hit to do that much graffiti on city property and to do it in the middle of the night, too.”
That’s why, she says, it’s so important to make a strong community stand.
“It’s serious. It could turn into something else and we don’t want it to, so we are making people aware and we are empowering people to utilize their resources, and to do something in the moment,” Judson said.
CALC works with the city and EPD to encourage reporting of hate incidents and hate crimes. EPD spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said the Stop Hate Campaign fosters supportive community connections and increases awareness of reporting options.
EPD hasn’t arrested anyone for the April 25 vandalism, and police don’t know if it was one person or a group, said McLaughlin.
The Register-Guard reported that the vandalism occurred the day after City Council voted to rename the community center at Westmoreland City Park as the Dr. Edwin L. Coleman, Sr. Community Center. Coleman was a tenured University of Oregon professor who taught ethnic studies, worked with the NAACP and was a leader for racial and social justice.
However, McLaughlin said the community center itself wasn’t tagged.
“There is no evidence at this point to connect the case to the renaming,” she said.
Hate incidents hit every part of the city
The surge of hate incident reports in Eugene is in line with national increases, according to Jennifer Lleras Van Der Van Haeghen, manager of the city’s Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement Office.
But hate incidents are underreported., she said. The Department of Justice estimated only one-third are reported nationally.
“Every neighborhood of our community experiences some type of hate crime or hate incident,” said Van Der Haeghen.
A hate crime is any criminal activity motivated by hate; a hate incident is any non-criminal activity motivated by hate, she said. Incidents are usually protected as free speech but are discriminatory and cause fear or concern in the community, Van Der Haeghen said.
Her office tracks any hate-related incidents or crimes in a coordinated effort with EPD, Eugene Public Works and organizations like CALC and the NAACP. Together, they are trying to paint an accurate picture about what people are experiencing in Eugene and hate graffiti trends, said Van Der Haeghen.
There are 18 active hate groups in Oregon, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Last year EPD increased its efforts to report hate graffiti — officers now document it whenever they find it. This could be one factor in the increase of reports, McLaughlin said.
Residents should report any hate activity or speech they experience or see — even if it’s not a crime — to the Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement Office, said Van Der Haeghen.
“It’s really important to track the incidents that occur in our communities that are the undercurrent — or the potential undercurrent — of things that may someday bubble up to a hate crime and make room for hate crimes in our community,” Van Der Haeghen said.
In February, the Stop Hate Campaign responded to another reported hate incident in the South Eugene neighborhood near East Amazon Drive and 35th Avenue. Pairs of volunteers went door to door, handing out the flyers and warning residents that a truck was seen dragging a doll representing a person of color behind it.
“People are outraged. they don’t like it. They don’t want to think that could happen in Eugene. It happens all the time. So, it’s important to get out and let the neighbors know,” said Jay Moseley, 40-year Eugene resident and longtime CALC volunteer. Moseley has participated in 10 Stop Hate Campaigns in the last few years, including the two this year.
CALC volunteers aren’t the only ones challenging hate in Eugene communities.
Van Der Haeghen said the city is working with 23 different neighborhood associations in Eugene to make the communities feel more welcoming and safe. As a part of that effort, in some areas residents posting neighborhood welcome signs in their yards, written in multiple languages. At least two were defaced with swastikas.
“It’s just really disheartening to see that they took a proactive step and then we’re seeing graffiti pretty quickly as a result,” said Van Der Haeghen.
But the Stop Hate campaigners are countering the hate with messages of inclusiveness, respect and community.
“I think that when more people put these Stop Hate signs up and more people call and report, the message somehow gets out there,” said Moseley. “It kind of seeps into the fabric of the community.”
How to report a hate crime or incident:
- If you witness or experience a hate crime, call 9-1-1
- Stop Hate encourages people to yell “I’m calling 9-1-1”
- If you see any hate activity like racist slurs, neo-nazi vandalism, or white supremacists
- Report it to law enforcement or the city
- Get a license plate number, location, physical descriptions or photos
- People who are reporting incidents can remain anonymous
- Eugene Police Department: 541-682-5111
- Springfield Police: 541-762-3714
- Lane County Sheriff: 541-682-4150
- Eugene Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement Office: 541-682-5619
- Or report online at: eugene-or.gov/ReporteHate
Correction: In a previous version of this article, a last name was spelled Staber. It has been changed to the correct spelling of Stauber.
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