Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will name a task force soon to address hate crimes on Capitol Hill and across the city, he said Wednesday.

Share story

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will name a task force Thursday to address what he described as an uptick in harassment and hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the city, he said Wednesday.

Murray is asking openly gay and lesbian Seattle police officers to participate in the group, which will consider how law enforcement, city services and community partnerships can keep people safe, he said.

For decades the heart of Seattle’s LGBT community, Capitol Hill is undergoing a period of explosive growth with new nightlife venues opening, new apartment buildings taking shape, and affluent young professionals moving to the neighborhood.

“I’m responding to a series of incidents that I’ve read or heard about since I came into office just over a year ago,” said Murray, who is gay and a Capitol Hill resident.

There were 126 bias incidents reported citywide in 2014, up from 110 in 2013, the mayor said, citing Seattle Police Department statistics.

Within the police precinct covering Capitol Hill and adjacent neighborhoods, there were 35 such reported incidents in 2014, 11 more than in 2013.

The Police Department uses the term “bias incidents” to refer to both criminal and noncriminal incidents.

In the first half of 2014, 21 of 49 bias crimes citywide targeted LGBT people, according to the department.

Many hate crimes go unreported.

Hundreds of people crowded into the neighborhood’s All Pilgrims Christian Church earlier this month for a forum on hate crimes organized by City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. One proposal highlighted was a homeless shelter for LGBT youth.

Murray, who spoke at the March 3 event, said Wednesday he’s not sure a shelter of that sort makes sense. He said he wants to hear from experts on the issue.

Susan Fox, executive director of Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets, a nonprofit providing support and services to homeless youth, said hate crimes are an unfortunate reality for some teenagers her organization works with.

“They experience a fair amount of this on Capitol Hill and other places,” Fox said. “I’ve seen several people come in here beat up because of their gender identity.”

She added: “I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s great for the city to put some attention on it.”

The mayor waited some time before creating a task force because he was hoping that people outside government would mobilize first, he said.

“I expected more of a grass-roots approach, like we took when I was young. But that hasn’t happened,” he said. “The problem is significant enough, I think, for me to pull community leaders together so they can advise us on what we should do.”

Max Patterson, 19, who identifies as nonbinary queer and who spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill, said some people in the community have recently carried out neighborhood patrols. But Patterson thinks additional action is needed.

“I don’t think its safe for (LGBT people) to walk through the Hill right now, especially on the weekends with so many clubs and drunk people,” said Patterson.

Patterson didn’t go to the police after being hurt in a bias-motivated assault on Capitol Hill in December 2013 due to feeling uncomfortable with Seattle cops.

Sawant said the task force will need to take into consideration that type of distrust and remember that policing alone won’t solve the problem.

“We need to make sure we talk about the things activists were talking about at the forum — a community center, funding for homeless youth, housing justice,” she said.

Murray said he doesn’t think Capitol Hill’s changing culture and population are mostly responsible for hate crimes. He said the situation was more dangerous a few decades ago.

The mayor instead thinks Seattle may be experiencing a backlash against advances in civil rights for LGBT people, such as marriage equality.

Task forces are sometimes viewed as window dressing. The mayor claimed that his group will produce results.

“My task forces work,” he said, citing groups last year that worked on increasing Seattle’s minimum wage and regulating app-dispatched car services like Uber and Lyft.

Information in this article, originally published March 19, 2015, was corrected March 19, 2015. A previous version of this story misrepresented the gender identity of an individual.