King County is poised to create a community-based, hate-crime reporting system to make it easier for victims to obtain services and to help the county better track such crimes. 

The reporting system, which would include both an online portal and a phone hotline, would serve as a “one-stop shop” for victims, said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who introduced the proposal. Last year, the county allocated $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funding for the reporting system.

The Metropolitan King County Council will vote on the proposal during its Tuesday meeting.

Victims or family members of victims who call the hotline or submit a case online would be directed toward community groups and agencies to get culturally sensitive counseling or trauma-informed care, Dunn said. The Stop Hate Hotline would also allow the county to more accurately track incidents of hate- and bias-motivated crimes. 

“If you go online to report a hate crime in Seattle, you have to go a long ways down before you reach nonprofit [services],” Dunn said. “First it’s police, then it’s the FBI reporting hotline.” 

In 2020, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed 49 cases involving hate crimes, compared to 36 cases the previous year. In 2021, the office filed 37 cases; 10 cases have been filed so far this year. 

Advertising

In addition, the county’s Coalition Against Hate and Bias, formed in 2020, has recorded more than 542 incidents over the last two years through its Hate and Bias Incident Response Survey.

But those figures fail to reflect the prevalence of crimes motivated by hate or bias, community advocates and experts say, as incidents go unreported

Some victims are distrustful of law enforcement, or worry about retribution from the attacker for going to the police, according to Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Others may believe there’s no point in reporting the incident, or are unsure whether the hate crime is serious enough to report. 

“If you look at the history of this country, hate has manifested in this country since its inception,” Siddiqi said. “Our method of curtailing it has to change. If there’s more resources allocated to marginalized groups, if there’s public education, that would be helpful.”

Overcoming cultural barriers that discourage some from reporting hate crimes is a major challenge that will take significant outreach and resources to overcome, said Tanya Woo, lead volunteer at CID Community Watch

“If someone’s attacked or something happened, there’s shame and guilt and trauma involved,” Woo said. “We’re culturally thinking it’s bad luck to draw attention to ourselves.” 

Advertising

Several community organizations already offer robust services for victims of hate crimes, Dunn said. For example, the Chinese Information and Service Center, which runs its own hotline in multiple languages, is a trusted community group in the Chinatown International District that many rely on, Woo said. 

They’ve helped Seattle’s Chinatown International District survive. Now they say government must do more (December 2021)

A countywide reporting system could operate as a central hub, Dunn said, “a non-law-enforcement alternative that can triage calls.” 

It could also help the city and county better understand the scope and nature of hate crimes happening locally, Woo said, and allow community groups to advocate for more resources to address the issue. 

“[In Chinatown] seniors don’t go out after 4 p.m., they’re always together in groups, they don’t venture far” from the neighborhood, Woo said. “Letting them know we need this data to be able to help mitigate and come up with solutions is part of the battle.” 

Within a two-week span over the summer, three separate hate crimes led to charges from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. In the most recent incident, a Seattle man assaulted two Asian women, yelling at them to “go back to China,” according to King County prosecutors. 

If the proposal is approved, the county would create a work group to formalize details on the public outreach and reporting system, Dunn said, adding that the community-based reporting system would begin operating next summer at the earliest.