After weeks of sitting idle awaiting a vote from the Ways and Means Committee, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s hate crime bill is back in motion in the Oregon House.
In Salem, Senate Bill 577 went before the House Subcommittee on Public Safety for a work session where it received minor tweaks and returned to the full Ways and Means Committee where it’s expected to be voted on Friday.
In Portland, advocates of the bill joined victims of hate crimes and bias incidents gathered at a press conference organized by the non-profit Unite Oregon, to urge legislators to pass the bill this session. A few months prior in the same room, Rosenblum and her Task Force on Hate Crimes listened to hours of testimony from survivors of incidents of bias.
“We don’t know the entire story of what is happening in Oregon,” said Unite Oregon executive director Kayse Jama at Wednesday’s press conference. “We don’t collect accurate data; we also don’t track hate incidents and we’re asking Oregon legislators to ensure that we tell the full story of what’s happening with hate crimes in Oregon.”
Oregon’s existing hate crime law was written in 1981 and has never been updated. Advocates say that it is outdated and neglects the needs of the state’s increasingly diverse community.
The proposed legislation would streamline data collection, expand protected classes to include gender identity and raise the minimum penalty for perpetrators of hate crimes.
Zakir Khan, board chair of CAIR Oregon and a member of the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Taskforce says the most important part of this bill is that it supports survivors of hate crimes.
In 2016 Larnell Bruce, Jr. was run down by a white supremacist driving an SUV in a 7-11 parking lot in Gresham.
His father, Larnell Bruce, Sr. made a plea to legislators Wednesday to pass the bill and increase the penalty for people convicted of hate crimes.
“I don’t think my son got the complete justice he should have got,” Bruce said after the press conference. “As a parent, I don’t feel like a misdemeanor for the hate crime … it made me feel like my son’s life didn’t matter. A misdemeanor? That hurt.”
His killer, Russell Courtier was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. But under Oregon’s existing hate crime law, he only received a misdemeanor, an 18-month sentence.
SB 577 would make hate crimes a felony that would carry a 20 year sentence.
Bruce said he would have appreciated additional resources from the state after his son’s murder, such as a hotline for survivors of hate crimes to call for support, or financial assistance when he had to miss work due to grief and court proceedings. Simply paid parking at the courthouse would help, he suggested.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and it’s really hard to express that to people … expect […] them to put themselves in my shoes,” Bruce said.
“They’re a hard pair of shoes to wear.”