Washington state’s new hate crime bill: What took so long?

 (Human Rights Spokane)
Black Lens staff report

The Black Lens staff

Senate Bill 5917, introduced by Sen. Andy Billig from Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District, expands hate crime protection to public spaces and addresses destruction and vandalism of public property.

This bill comes after a string of vandalism targeting the LGBTQ+ community in Spokane, according to the city. In 2023, after years of advocacy, the city of Spokane approved one of the first neighborhood rainbow crosswalks in the Perry District, supporting our LGBTQ+ communities. Once complete, the crosswalk was repeatedly vandalized, including the Odyssey Youth Center, which serves LGBTQ+ youth and was co-founded by Sandy Williams, the founder of The Black Lens and the Carl Maxey Center. A second crosswalk at the corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Wall Street was vandalized, recently with paint poured on the crosswalk.

“We have all seen the increase in hate crimes around the nation, and we are all too familiar with how hate can find its home in Eastern Washington, but in the end, we know love will win,” said City Council Member Paul Dillon.

While we have seen numerous hate crimes targeting communities of color, religious communities and the LGBTQ+ community, protections have focused on individual harm and damage to private property. Public spaces will now receive similar protections. To be found guilty under the statute, a person must act maliciously and intentionally based on a person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.

As our city, county, state, and country grapple with removing symbols of oppression, slavery, genocide and hate and replace them with symbols of inclusion, diversity and love, having a new law to protect those symbols sends a critical message that hate has no home here. According to Dillon, “This bill gives us a new, much-needed tool and helps us all to aspire to live our city motto ‘In Spokane, we all belong.”