Oregon beefing up security at mosques, hate-crime law

Police in Portland beefed up security at places of worship after attacks on two mosques in New Zealand.

Posted: Mar 15, 2019 5:29 PM
Updated: Mar 15, 2019 5:36 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Police in Portland beefed up security Friday at places of worship after deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand, as an American Muslim group for called for political leaders to take steps to curb far-right extremism.

The police in Portland said they were increasing their presence “in light of the horrific attacks in New Zealand.”

“Officers are providing extra patrols to faith-based locations throughout our city. We are also reaching out to the leaders of these communities to let them know we are here for them and they are supported and loved,” the Portland Police Bureau tweeted.

RELATED: Eugene police patrol Islamic Center after New Zealand attack

Testimony this week on behalf of a bill in the Oregon Legislature that broadens a hate-crime law exposed many instances of bigotry in Oregon, which despite its progressive image has a history of racism.

Demetria Hester, of the Portland suburb of Gresham, described to members of the Senate judiciary committee how she was riding Portland’s light-rail in May 2017 when a white man began insulting her with racial slurs and assaulted her. None of the onlookers did anything, Hester said. The next day, the same man hurled abuse at two African-American girls on the light rail. Authorities say that when three passengers intervened, the man stabbed three of them, two fatally. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder and other charges.

“When is this going to stop?,” Hester asked the lawmakers on Tuesday.

MORE: 49 killed in mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand

Another woman, of Laotian descent, described how her family left Portland for rural Aurora because it was getting too crowded - and how their mailbox was set on fire, their dog died after being poisoned, and white supremacist graffiti was written on the street in front of their house. The family suspected neighbors, but the sheriff said he could do nothing because there were no witnesses. The harassment stopped after the neighboring family moved away.

A member of the judiciary committee, Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, said symbols of intolerance have grown more discreet in many cases.

“The face of hate has gradually changed,” said Manning, an African-American. “It used to be rebel confederate flags on back of pickups. Now its large American flags on back of pickups. Each time I see one, I take notice. It makes me nervous.”

Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson, a member of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s task force on hate crimes, told the Senate panel that hate crimes are “grossly underreported.”

Another member of the task force, Zakir Khan of the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described at the hearing how, two days after the fatal 2017 attack on the light rail, a black Muslim couple was accosted by a man who swerved his vehicle at them and told the woman to remove her burqa because “this is America.”

They called 911 but no police were dispatched, Khan said.

On Friday, Khan said his group grieves and stands in solidarity with the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“We are not looking for statements from political leadership at this point. We need to see action,” he said in a statement.

He said CAIR believes Congress must hold a hearing on the impact that far-right groups are having upon marginalized communities in Oregon and America and that the Oregon Legislature must fund and staff agencies that support hate crime survivors and counteract white supremacy.

Rosenblum said Friday on Twitter that the attacks in New Zealand “are crimes against humanity. We are committed here in Oregon to eliminating both. We must never give up.”

The Senate bill and proposed amendment would change existing law to refer to “bias crime” instead of “intimidation,” include a victim’s gender identity as a motive for an attack, turn a misdemeanor into a felony and direct the state justice department to study the enforcement of bias crime laws and how data on the crimes being committed is collected.

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