A Conference Dedicated To Learning About Hate Crimes And How To Prevent Them
A conference solely dedicated to the topic of hate crimes is happening in Burien next week. The Hate Crimes Conference is being organized by a Seattle police officer whose job involves bridging trust between police and the city’s LGBTQ community.
Officer James Ritter is the Seattle Police Department’s LGBTQ liaison. He’s 54 years old and gay. He didn't come out until he was 32.
The event he's putting together will cover everything from the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. to remarks from activist Judy Shepard whose son, Matthew, was murdered in 1998 because he was gay.
Victims of bias crimes are attacked because of who they are: their religion, sexuality, the color of their skin. One of the goals of the conference is to educate people who work in criminal justice law on how these acts of violence affect a community.
“It leaves an emotional scar with the individual. It leaves a feeling of helplessness with the police department if those individuals don’t report it, or witnesses that see this stuff don’t support it. And it makes the community less safe. And I think every community, especially Seattle, wants to let people know this is a safe place to live and that we do not condone any of this behavior toward anyone,” said Ritter.
When Ritter started in this position, he predicted that the number of reported hate crimes in Seattle would go up because victims would feel more comfortable coming forward knowing there was a police officer sympathetic to their concerns.
He might be right. In 2014, there were 136 reported hate crimes. Last year, 205 cases were brought the the attention of police. Just because people went to police doesn’t mean that all of these incidents resulted in criminal charges.
The Hate Crimes Conference takes place on April 27 and 28 at the Washington State Criminal Justice Center in Burien.