Hate Crimes in Washington: Recent Changes in State and Federal Law and a Guide to Resources

Reference Staff
Published in
7 min readSep 8, 2023

**New hate crimes legislation has been passed since this blog post was originally published. SSB 5427 (effective 1/1/25) creates a hate crimes and bias incidents hotline to be established statewide by January 1, 2027. And SSB 5917 (effective 6/6/24) changes the hate crimes statute to encompass damage or destruction to public property.**

Hate crimes are an increasing threat in Washington State. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ statistics show that reported hate crimes in Washington have increased from 177 in 2002 to 673 in 2022. Furthermore Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group reported in 2020 that hate crimes statewide skyrocketed between 2015 and 2017 and that Seattle saw a 346% rise in hate crimes between 2012 and 2018. The numbers are sure to be higher. The Working Group notes “that more than half (54%) of hate crime victimizations were not reported to police from 2011–2015.”

Demonstrators, most of whom are wearing face masks, stand or walk in front of a pedestrian crossing signal. They are facing something that is outside of the frame to the right. Several demonstrators are holding signs. The sign facing the camera has mostly red text and reads, “Am I next?”
Photo by Ted Eytan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although most of us probably think we can spot a hate crime when we see one, the law is not always clear. There is no uniform hate crime definition and the motivations covered in hate crime statutes vary across states. A recent National Judicial College poll found that one third of judges polled were not confident in their knowledge of hate crime laws in their jurisdiction. Here we provide an overview of Washington State and federal hate crime law and discuss newly passed legislation that went into effect in July.

Washington State Hate Crime Law and Recent Changes

Washington’s statutes prohibiting hate crimes are found at RCW 9A.36.078 (Findings), RCW 9A.36.080 (Definition and Criminal Penalty), and RCW 9A.36.083 (Civil Action). A hate crime statute has existed in Washington since 1981 when the crime was termed “malicious harassment.” Over the years the statute has been amended several times, enumerating the several acts and categories of bias covered in the law. A hate crime offense is a class C felony. Consult the statute here to find which acts and categories of bias are currently addressed in Washington.

The text of the hate crime offense statute is shown. The statute number, RCW 9A.36.080, is shown at top left. Notes about the history of the statute are shown at bottom in green text.
RCW 9A.36.080 includes the definition and criminal penalty for a hate crime offense

In 2019 the legislature changed the term “malicious harassment” to “hate crime offense.” Definitions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” were also added to RCW 9A.36.080, and “gender identity or expression” was explicitly added as a category of bias. The legislation also created the Attorney General’s Multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group for the “purpose of developing strategies toward raising awareness of and appropriate responses to hate crime offenses and hate incidents.” The Working Group made recommendations in their 2020 report.

One of the Working Group recommendations relating to community custody was adopted into legislation signed just this past April. Senate Bill 5623 newly classifies a hate crime as a “crime against persons.” Perpetrators of this type of crime are subject to community custody, Department of Corrections supervision in the community, ensuring they complete the requirements of their sentence.

SB 5623 also removes the requirement of “physical injury” from the definition of hate crime and applies it to all assaults made with a hate crime intent. This means that actual physical harm or injury is no longer required to convict a perpetrator with a hate crime offense. The third change made in SB 5623 is the replacement of the term “swastika” with “Nazi emblem, symbol, or hakenkreuz” in RCW 9A.36.080. The deletion of the term swastika from the language is in respect to the fact that the swastika symbol, used for more than 4,000 years by multiple faith communities including Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and Muslims and named from the Sanskrit roots “su” (good) and “asti” (to prevail), was appropriated by the Nazis who used the term hakenkreuz for their version.

A group of nine people of varying ages and genders smile and stand with the United States and Washington State flags in the background. The four men on the left wear the traditional Sikh turban. A man in a suit is seated at a table in the middle of the group. He looks at the camera and smiles. He has paper in front of him on the table and he holds a pen in his right hand.
Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) stands to the right of Governor Jay Inslee at the signing of SB 5623. Other community members attended the bill signing

Senator Manka Dhingra, a former Prosecutor from King County, sponsored SB 5623. She explains her reasoning:

Hate crimes are horrific acts of violence that do more than affect individual victims — they make whole communities feel unwelcome. These crimes are corrosive to our society, and we need to have the proper tools available to protect survivors and ensure that courts can effectively supervise offenders in completing rehabilitative programs when those are needed.

A bill establishing a hate crimes hotline was also proposed but failed to gain steam in the 2023 legislative session. Advocates have vowed to try again next session.

Federal Hate Crime Law

Hate crimes are also prosecuted at the federal level. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice notes some of the specific federal statutes on their Hate Crime Laws website. This year the Congressional Research Service published a summary of the key federal hate crimes statutes in addition to their more extensive 2022 publication Overview of Federal Hate Crime Laws. These publications followed the passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in 2022, adding two conspiracy crimes to the hate crimes listed in 18 U.S.C. § 249. It passed the House 422 to 3 on February 28, 2022, with only three representatives, Andrew S. Clyde (GA), Thomas Massie (KY), and Chip Roy (TX), voting against it. It passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on March 7, 2022.

Some examples of federal hate crimes prosecuted recently in Washington include the conviction of four white supremacists by former U.S. Attorney Nick Brown’s office. The four attacked a Black DJ at a club in Lynnwood in 2018. Another example is the attacks on three Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls in Olympia, Tumwater, and Yelm. Mikey Diamond Starrett, AKA Michael Jason Layes, is facing federal charges for allegedly committing damage to religious property and using fire to commit a federal felony.

Selected Hate Crimes Resources

Hate Crime Reporting and Victim Resources:

The U.S. Department of Justice Report a Hate Crime website suggests that victims of hate crimes call 9–1–1 or report the crime to their state or local police. They request that victims follow up this initial step with a report to the FBI at tips.FBI.gov or by phone at 1–800-CALL-FBI.

Check your local government website for information on reporting hate crimes and accessing victim assistance programs. Law enforcement departments in many Washington jurisdictions have a website dedicated to hate crimes.

Your local law enforcement agency may also participate in a local Safe Place Program based on the Seattle Police Department’s original model. The Seattle program states that “[t]he Safe Place program is a partnership between the Police Department and businesses. It gives victims of bias or hate crimes a Safe Place to go after their incident, where the business will give them shelter while they call for help.” If your city participates in the program, seek help by looking for a Safe Place sticker in the window of local businesses. Local law enforcement websites often provide information on their Safe Place Program.

Washington Department of Commerce Office of Crime Victim Advocacy

VictimConnect Resource Center

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Crime Victim Law Institute

Hate Crimes — Office for Victims of Crime

Find additional victim advocacy services by going to wa211.org or dial 2–1–1 on your phone.

The Preventing Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative has several youth hate crimes webinars

Federal Government Information and Data:

Hate Crime Statistics for Washington — U.S. Department of Justice

Hate Crimes Enforcement and Prevention Website — U.S. Department of Justice

Overview of Hate Crime — National Institute of Justice

What We Investigate: Hate Crimes — Federal Bureau of Investigation

How We Can Help You: Hate Crime Statistics — Federal Bureau of Investigation

Crime Data Explorer: Hate Crime — Federal Bureau of Investigation

Bias-Motivated/Hate Crime — Bureau of Justice Statistics

Hate Crime Victimization, 2005–2019 — Bureau of Justice Statistics

Hate Crime Recorded by Law Enforcement, 2010–2019 — Bureau of Justice Statistics

Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005–19 — Bureau of Justice Statistics

Preventing Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative — Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Hate Crimes and Youth: Literature Review — Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Fact Sheet: Research, Programs, and Initiatives that Address Hate Crimes — Office of Justice Programs

A Pathway Approach to the Study of Bias Crime Offenders — National Institute of Justice (links to grant-funded publications at bottom of page)

In the Name of Hate: Examining the Federal Government’s Role in Responding to Hate Crimes — U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

National Criminal Justice Reference Service Virtual Library (search for government publications on hate crimes and criminal justice)

Congressional Research Service Publications:

Hate Crimes: Key Federal Statutes

Overview of Federal Hate Crime Laws

Sifting Domestic Terrorism from Domestic Violent Extremism and Hate Crime

Department of Justice’s Role in Investigating and Prosecuting Hate Crimes

Federal Data on Hate Crimes in the United States

Library Resources:

Westlaw and HeinOnline law review articles (available in our Research Room)

Hate Crimes Law by Zachary J. Wolfe, KF4749 .H38 (also available on Westlaw in our Research Room)

Other Websites:

Tools to Track Hate — Anti-Defamation League

Hate Crime Gun Laws — Giffords Law Center

Hate Crimes, Explained — Southern Poverty Law Center

Fighting Hate — Southern Poverty Law Center

Hate Crimes map — Human Rights Campaign

Hate Crimes Resources — Human Rights Campaign

Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism


Stop AAPI Hate

Asian Americans Advancing Justice


The Arc

Council on American-Islamic Relations

The Sikh Coalition (RM)