Events over the past several weeks remind us how hatred can escalate into large scale violence and terrorism. Innocent taken, families left to grieve, communities shattered, we continue to see deep hatred and hostility lead to cruelty, aggression, and violence. We continue to witness horrific international and domestic acts of terror, both stemming from the most destructive of all human emotions: hate.
Hatred and crimes perpetuated by hatred come in all shapes and sizes. It is a worthy time to remember that in addition to colossal acts of terror, discrimination and hate crimes are still alive and well on a smaller scale, occurring far too often and rooted from the same place: hatred and hostility.
The Seattle Times reports that a Western Washington University student is being held on investigation of first-degree malicious harassment, the state’s hate crime statute. (RCW 9a.36.080) The student allegedly posted online threats against students of color on a social media site (Yik Yak). The WWU President suspended classes in connection to these posts/threats (now resumed). The alleged student has been suspended from class, barred from campus, and is currently out on bail. Family members of the alleged students have called it an “honest mistake” that “spiraled out of control”, but WWU and law enforcement takes these types of threats very seriously. Consequences of a malicious harassment conviction are quite significant and investigation is still underway, charges not yet filed.
A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap:
- Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;
- Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or
- Threatens a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property. The fear must be a fear that a reasonable person would have under all the circumstances.
If the suspect is mistaken about the victim’s status, but selected them because of the suspect’s belief about the victim’s status, it is still considered malicious harassment. Please review the statute for additional detail and circumstances which may constitute malicious harassment.
Malicious harassment is a class C felony, punishable under RCW 9a.20.021 by a prison sentence of up to 5 years and/or a fine up to $10,000.
Reporting & Seeking Legal Representation:
To report an immediate incident or one that has just occurred, and/or if you feel that you are in any danger, please call 9-1-1. If the incident has subsided, there are no injuries, and you are out of harm’s way, contact the local police department.
If you have been the victim of any type of hate crime and are in need of legal representation, please contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will explore the ins and outs of your case and pursue the best possible outcome.