SEATTLE — More aid could be coming to western Washington to help federal prosecutors tackle hate crimes.
Tanya Woo grew up in the Chinatown-International District (CID) and is a lead volunteer for the CID Community Watch. The group walks through the CID several times a week to check on people in the community after a rise in racism and crime.
“They say you punch one of us, we all feel it, and I really do feel the pain and the hurt and the fear, especially over these last couple of years which have been really tough for this community,” said Woo.
The number of anti-Asian hate crime cases nearly doubled in King County at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers dropped last year, but Woo said hate crimes are severely under-reported.
“A lot of seniors here don't want to report because it goes against a lot of cultural values,” explained Woo. “We don't want to draw attention to ourselves. We don't want to talk about unhappy things. It's unlucky and shameful.”
Woo said there are a lot of hurdles when it comes to reporting hate crimes, including language barriers and mistrust of police because of past trauma.
“It all begins with the community and helping victims and letting them know it's OK to talk about it,” said Woo.
That’s what U.S. Attorney Nick Brown is working on, by making sure the community knows they want to hear about hate crime activity.
“A lot of our outreach is making sure that they understand that we're here as a resource,” said Brown.
Brown said people of color, LGBTQ members and religious facilities are being targeted.
“It's also really important for us to be doing that outreach,” said Brown. “So, we're hearing from them the issues that they're facing rather than trying to prescribe for them what we think are the problems.”
More help for federal prosecutors could be on the way. Seattle could join other districts as part of a national program that will bring federal resources for community outreach. The goal is to spread awareness and encourage people to report hate crimes no matter the severity.
“Sometimes they're big, violent hate crimes, and sometimes they're small, more benign forms of discrimination that we also want to know about so we can tackle those problems as well,” said Brown.
Brown said knowing about a crime early can help prosecutors build evidence in often complex and lengthy investigations.
“To build that evidence, we need to actually prove the motive in a case,” said Brown. “Usually, it takes more time, and so we try to be on the ground quickly and work collaboratively with law enforcement earlier on in the process.”
Woo thinks those efforts could help people come forward and give a better sense of the number of hate crimes happening.
“Having a community base that is culturally competent to be able to reach out to community members here would be really helpful,” said Woo.