Hate Crimes in Washington: Recent Changes in State and Federal Law and a Guide to Resources
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Federal Government Information and Data:
2021 Hate Crime Statistics for Washington — U.S. Department of Justice
Hate Crimes Prevention and Enforcement 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:
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)
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
The Sikh Coalition (RM)