Kimberly Dam generally feels safe working at her cafe, Portland Cà Phê, in southeast Portland.
But that sense of security changed in February.
“Our door was, I don’t know if it was kicked in or someone shot it with a BB gun,” she said.
Dam thought the vandalism was a one-time incident. But her shop was hit again in May, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Only this time, Dam says, Portland Cà Phê wasn’t the only target.
“The Thai restaurant is a doorway from our house and they got robbed. The person threw a brick through his door and broke the glass.
Dam doesn’t know if these attacks were racially motivated, but she suspects it. She is quick to point out that the store between hers and the Thai restaurant, PDX Thai Dining, is white-owned and has not been vandalized.
“I don’t mean it was racially motivated, but it seems to be.”
Dam’s story is part of a growing trend of bias crimes and incidents against communities of color across Oregon.
During the recent 4th of July weekend, a white man attacked an Asian American father and his young daughter on Portland’s Eastbank Esplanade. Police arrested the alleged attacker, identified as Dylan Kesterson, and released him the same day. Kesterson was eventually re-arrested and now faces multiple bias crime charges.
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a nonprofit that specializes in nonpartisan data collection and research, released a study in May that found most Asian Oregonians fear for their safety.
“The numbers are not good,” says Amaury Vogel, associate executive director of OVBC. “49% of Asians in Oregon say they or a family member have seen someone use a racial slur, epithet or demeaning language against them.”
Since 2019, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission has collected data on bias crimes and incidents across the state.
The commission released its latest report this month, which found that bias crimes and incidents have increased at an alarming rate, especially among those targeting blacks and Asians. According to the report, anti-Asian incidents increased by 200% last year and anti-Asian crime increased by 300% in 2021.
This graph shows bias incidents and bias crimes reported to the Bias Crimes Hotline against Asians and Asian Americans, by month.
“[A bias incident] is a hostile expression of animosity directed at a person based on their perception of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity of person,” says Fay Stetz-Waters, director of civil rights at the Oregon Department. of Justice.
In other words, if someone blurts out an offensive insult, it’s considered a bias incident. But if someone physically assaults another person because of how they identify themselves, it’s considered a bias crime.
Crimes and incidents related to bias are on the rise. What state officials are still trying to determine is how much of that is directly in response to an increase in bias crimes, compared to the state collecting the data for the first time.
In early 2019, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum held a series of town hall meetings with communities of color across the state to learn what the Oregon Department of Justice can do to address the issue.
During these conversations, Rosenblum proposed Senate Bill 577, which sought to more clearly define the difference between a bias crime and a bias incident, designate gender identity as a protected class, and compel law enforcement to provide data on bias crimes.
State lawmakers passed SB 577, and Governor Kate Brown signed it into law in July 2019.
The Oregon Department of Justice also created the Non-Emergency Bias Crimes Hotline, a confidential service that offers support to victims of bias crimes, as well as collecting previously underreported data.
“It’s important to document what happened so people know. People deny that this is actually a problem in Oregon. We can demonstrate, we actually do, and that’s what hurts,” Stetz-Waters says.
The hotline received mixed reviews when it launched in early 2020.
“When we first opened, boy, people were crazy,” Stetz-Waters says. “We get a lot of hate mail. But we get a lot of people who say, ‘You’re the first person who listened to me.’
A surge in anti-Asian sentiment linked to the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spiked the number of calls.
The hotline answered a total of 189 calls from Asian Oregonians in 2021, compared to just 68 in 2020.
While hotline data reveals a worrying increase in bias crimes reported in 2021, Amaury Vogel believes many incidents are never even counted.
“With our statewide BIPOC survey, 79% of people said they had not reported an incident compared to our Asia-only survey where 84% said they had not reported it” , says Vogel.
State Representative Khanh Pham, the first and currently only representative from the Asian American state of Oregon, said many Asians do not report bias crimes for a variety of reasons, including lack of information on where to report, language and cultural differences and general fear. of law enforcement.
“Most people don’t know where to go, and many Asian Americans have been socialized not to cause conflict,” Pham says. “If the local police don’t see what they’re going through and take it seriously, it can discourage other members of the community from wanting to go to the police.”
Rep. Pham lobbied for more funding for the helpline after a gunman shot and killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta. The shooter pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“It has been a difficult year. Between this pandemic, which has shattered so many of our families and has just shattered life as we know it, and an Asian American woman, and just feeling the growing tensions and divisions and the scapegoat happening,” she said.
With new sources of funding secured, hotline managers hired more multilingual operators to answer phones in different parts of the state.
According to Fay Stetz-Waters, preliminary Justice Department data tracking calls reported in 2022 suggests a continuing upward trend. But Stetz-Waters warns that data from 2022 is still under review. That said, Stetz-Waters thinks the numbers are concerning.
Officials acknowledge that the hotline will not immediately solve the complex problem of racism. But for Pham, it’s part of a larger solution.
“I was also really inspired by some of the strengths, the resilience and the collective organization that I saw in our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities that really came together to demand safety, to demand justice and truly affirm that we all belong.