EUGENE, Ore. -- Experts said hate crimes have nearly doubled in Eugene in the last year, and they spoke to the City Club of Eugene on Friday about the difference between free speech and hate speech.
Experts spoke to a packed conference room at the Baker Center in downtown Eugene. They told the crowd hate speech is unfortunately an ongoing issue throughout our country and will only improve if we truly understand the differences between free speech and hate speech.
One of the speakers during the meeting was Eric Ward, the Executive Director of the Western States Center, an organization focused on connecting the community.
He said free speech may be offensive at times but is protected, while hate speech is used to cause harm, incite violence and deny people their rights.
Ward said to defeat hate speech, people need to speak up against it.
"Utilize one’s own free speech," Ward said. "That doesn't simply mean individuals but communities and local governments should be obligated to counter hate speech with the values that hold that community together. Talking about community safety, we're talking about the idea that all of us have a right to live, love and work in our communities."
Ward said in the last year there were 59 reported hate crimes. This year there have already been 89.
He said he appreciates the City Club of Eugene for inviting him to speak and hopes these difficult conversations can continue.