Oregon’s Attorney General wants to tackle hate crimes across the state. At a listening session last night in Eugene, the AG encouraged locals to share stories that touched on themes of fear, violence, and hatred.
Robert Scott is an African American who’s lived Eugene for eight years. He says as a taxi cab driver there are certain areas of Oregon that he doesn’t drive to.
“I’m 6’4, 260 pounds and I’m really, really afraid. Some places I don’t go to. Some people might say, well why don’t you take me to Veneta, or take me to Cresswell, or somewhere and I’ll have to tell them I’m really afraid because of the environment the people.”
Scott says as an African-American man living in Eugene he’s endured countless moments of racism. Like the time he confronted an older white man who tried to intimidate a waiter at a restaurant.
“And I went up to the guy and I tell him well I don’t think you should do that at that point he decided to call me the n-word and I was just like stunned that he used that kind of language, but then again it’s kind of normal.”
Scott says he came to the hate crimes listening session to share stories like these to see if the Hate Crimes Task Force could do something about it. He says the only way to address the hate crimes is to acknowledge systemic racism.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, says she agrees.
“It’s not just a one off type of situation, and that’s why it’s so important for the state to be looking at this and to be a part of the solution.”
More than 60 attended the event. Rosenblum says the state can’t solve the problem alone.
“It’s about the structure of the system and it’s about kind of a deep rooted problem in our state that we need to address.”
The testimonies will help inform legislation designed to tackle hate crimes in the future. Including, a bill that would increase penalties for hate and bias incidents.
Using The Stories To Create Change
Given the state’s homogenous makeup, Ellen Rosenblum says she wasn’t surprised by accounts that included various forms of discrimination like antisemitism, racism and homophobia.
She says listening to people gives her a better understanding of how to address these issue with legislation.
“We’re filling in gaps we’re trying to make sure that we’re not making a mistake by the approach that we’re taking and I think this is very helpful. It’s affirming of the work that we’re doing.”
Rosenblum says the Hate Crimes Task Force has about a week left to make changes to any bills addressing prejudice and discrimination. They’ll submit those for the next legislation session. And that, she says, makes these listening sessions both exciting and urgent.