Flanked by Gov. Jay Inslee, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke talks about the importance of including immigrants in the community during a news conference at Kent’s Centennial Center on Thursday. Inslee visited Kent for a roundtable discussion on hate crimes. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

‘We are better than fear’

Gov. Inslee, interfaith community gather to find ways to address hate crimes

Reported hate crimes in communities and bullying episodes at schools targeting minorities are on the rise in the state, and Gov. Jay Inslee vows to deal with the disturbing trend.

Inslee and his entourage visited Kent on Thursday to huddle with concerned interfaith and neighborhood leaders for a roundtable discussion on hate crimes. He left the meeting encouraged that steps are being taken to build community relationships, increase dialogue and embrace inclusion. He assured ethnic group leaders that local and state authorities stand to do more in responding to the increased reports of hate crimes, harassment and other discriminatory actions.

“We’ve seen a rise of fear-based and hate-based incidents in our state. And those incidents are a stain on our state. They are unacceptable in our state,” Inslee said at an impromptu news conference in the hallway of Kent’s Centennial Center building across from City Hall. “The Evergreen State is better than bullying. We are better than harassment and we are better than fear.

“We know in our state whether you are a Muslim or a Lutheran, a Jew or a LGBTQ member, a Sikh or a Catholic, or a person of Hispanic heritage … whatever you are, you are a Washingtonian,” Inslee said, “and Washingtonians deserve respect and compassion and just a little bit of love on occasion.”

According to the FBI, incidents of hate have been directed against transgender women, Jews, African Americana, Hispanics, Muslims, Hindu Americans, Sikh Americans and others in recent months. Incidents have taken place from New York and Florida to California and Washington state.

Seattle alone reported more hate crimes than 33 states in 2015, the FBI said.

Kent stepped into the national spotlight when a Sikh man was shot and injured in front of his East Hill home on March 3. The case, in which Kent Police and the FBI are investigating as a hate crime, remains unsolved.

Inslee emphasized the importance for all groups to maintain a good, working relationship with law enforcement. He urged residents of all races to step forward and report hate crimes or acts of harassment and discrimination. Victims and witnesses should not be afraid, should not be silent, he said.

“We need to inspire each other to all be leaders, not just governors, not just legislators, but all to be leaders in the fight against hate,” Inslee said.

Bullying a big problem

Inslee came away from the gathering briefed on a more acute problem – bullying at schools.

He acknowledges school districts – parents, educators and students – need to better report, respond and understand such incidents.

“We need to up our game in educating our children that bullying is not acceptable, that giving into fear and hate is not acceptable,” Inslee said, “and we need more work to support our teachers and our principals in that effort.”

Jasmin Samy, civil rights manager for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Washington chapter, said bullying cases go largely under-reported because victims and witnesses feel they may face retaliation or become isolated if they say something.

“We need to empower people to speak up,” she said.

Other remarks

• The governor warned President Donald Trump and his administration not “to debilitate and degrade” local law enforcement in how it acts against hate crimes, and opposes having local police become “mini immigration officials.”

• Inslee lauded Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke and the city’s efforts for being a leader in welcoming refugees. He challenged the Trump administration to do the same, especially in the wake of the Syrian crisis in which families and children have been killed and injured in the war-torn country.

“We know that refugees can add to our community. They are doing it in Kent. Mayor Cooke has demonstrated why and how you can have a beautiful community that’s vibrant by having refugees,” Inslee said. “So we would ask the president that if he wants to show a drop of humanity, allow these beautiful (Syrian) children to come as refugees into our state. Don’t drop the door on them as he had.”

• Inslee is open to the creation of a national task force to combat hate crimes, adding, “If such a commission could get the president to be more in touch with humanity and less in touch with his instincts to divide us, that could be a good thing.”

But Inslee said the state isn’t going to wait on a national commission to act. He wants local results now. “We’ve got some good ideas to chew on that will help us,” he said.

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