EUGENE, Ore. -- The number of hate crimes reported in Eugene continues to rise, and city councilors are hoping increased penalties for violators might help curb the trend.
Preliminary numbers from the 2020 Hate and Bias Report reveal a 12% rise in hate crimes, according to a presentation from Fabio Andrade, Humans Rights and Equity Analyst with the City of Eugene.
During a work session Monday, Andrade said crimes against Black and African American people make up about half of all incidents despite the fact that they account for just two percent of the population in the city.
During the work session, councilors voted to move forward with plans to increase the maximum fine for second degree bias crimes from $2,500 to $6,250. Violators can also face up to a year in jail. The increased fines will be the topic of future public hearings and an eventual vote by the city council, but no exact date has been given.
Eric Richardson, Executive Director of the Eugene Springfield NAACP, said stiffer fines are a good thing and can help make clear when free speech becomes hate speech.
“We support that, and we look forward to our city government and state and county government really backing up the idea that racism is a public health crisis,” Richardson said.
Councilors also voted to move forward with a city code amendment to add a crime of intimidation by display of a noose, to align with a state law that goes into effect in January 2022. The city said many of the bias crimes are reported in neighborhoods near downtown Eugene as well as near high schools.
Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said police also have difficulty bringing a resolution to bias crimes, referred to as the "clearance rate".
“The clearance rate is not anything to be real proud of quite frankly," Skinner said. "But I do think it's a testament to how difficult sometimes it is to be able to identify suspect information and then ultimately, the motivator behind these [crimes]."
The city will release a more detailed report on bias crimes from 2020 at an event in August alongside leaders at the Eugene-Springfield NAACP.