Providence countywide study says prejudice still on the rise

A changing political climate and President Trump are at the heart of the spike, some leaders say.

Dakota Reed was arrested at his Monroe home in December for Facebook posts threatening to kill dozens of Jews. On social media, he said his actions were inspired by a larger movement of white nationalism in the country.

That same month, a group of suspected white supremacists allegedly attacked a black DJ in a Lynnwood bar.

And in the past year, fliers and graffiti with swastikas and phrases like “Keep America American” have surfaced throughout Snohomish County and the country.

According to a soon-to-be released annual countywide health survey, acts of discrimination remain on the rise.

“I think it’s very troubling for the region as a whole when you have a climate where these people are using hate to attack others,” Snohomish County NAACP President Janice Greene said of the results compiled by a foundation affiliated with Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. “It affects everyone. It affects the entire community and I think it’s important we let people know.”

The Providence Institute for a Healthier Community started the Health & Well-Being Monitor in 2016 as a way to gauge the community’s health and show the link between six different areas of well-being: work and growth, physical health, neighborhood and environment, relationships, security and mental and emotional health.

In both the 2016 and 2017 surveys, 12 percent of respondents reported facing prejudice during the year. Last year, that number jumped to 26 percent, where it stayed again this year.

Of those who reported discrimination in the most recent survey, people of color accounted for nearly 40 percent. Among all people of color surveyed, 45 percent reported incidents of discrimination.

There’s a clear link between mental and physical health, and discrimination can play a serious role by adding stress and instability to someone’s life, said PIHC executive director Scott Forslund. The rising number of discrimination complaints prompted Forslund to reach out to civil rights and minority organizations to further expand the monitor’s reach, hoping greater participation might help lead to a better understanding of what’s fueling the upward trend in discrimination complaints.

Some local activists and community leaders think they already have a pretty good idea who’s behind the spike — President Donald Trump.

“I do believe the political climate is giving people the confidence they can do what they wouldn’t have done five years ago,” Greene said. “They can say what they wouldn’t have said. They use the excuse of they don’t have to be politically correct. I don’t think they’ve taken into effect the hurtfulness of those comments.”

Rosario Reyes, president of the Latino Education and Training Institute, who has lived in Snohomish County for almost 40 years, agreed.

“I think there was a lot of civility before in dealing with different cultures,” Reyes said.

That’s changed, she said, in part because of the rhetoric coming from the White House.

“I think people felt like well, if it comes from higher places, they agreed that it’s OK to be that way,” Reyes said.

Greene, the local NAACP president, noted there’s always been an “underbelly” of prejudice, but added “having them out doing what they’re doing with disruption, hate speech and hate crime has brought them out from under where it’s been festering, so people can see it. I think many people were appalled. They don’t want hate here. They don’t want that disruption.”

For people who speak a language other than English at home, 43 percent of those surveyed reported facing discrimination during the year, according to the study. Of those, nearly half were Spanish speakers. At the Latino Education and Training Institute, Reyes said her focus used to be on economic development and teaching English. Now, it’s often dealing with people’s physical and emotional health.

Reyes leads seminars called Total Wellness for the Latina Woman. Toward the end of the course this year, stress relief experts spoke to the group.

“I had so many women come up to me afterward and ask, ‘Rosario, why would you wait till the end for this?’” she said. “Unfortunately, the women, especially the immigrant women, think they are Superwoman and they can take care of everyone besides themselves.”

In addition to race, nation of origin, gender or sexual orientation, others in the most recent survey reported being discriminated against based on their age, weight or disability.

Religious groups also reported incidents of discrimination.

Miri Cypers, regional director for the Anti-Defamation Leagues’s Northwest office, said there’s been a sharp spike in hate crimes and hate bias incidents since the 2016 election.

“Unfortunately, this is not a problem that’s specific to the Pacific Northwest,” she said.

Schools have become a microcosm of the changing cultural climate, with more incidents of discrimination being reported, she said. The ADL’s No Place for Hate program is meant to provide a framework to address bias and promote inclusion and diversity, Cypers said. It’s free for K-12 schools.

The ADL is already working with some schools in Seattle and south King County, but Cypers hopes to expand throughout the Puget Sound.

“We really feel like hate is something that’s learned, but it can be corrected,” she said.

Documents obtained by The Daily Herald from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction show that nearly half of the 13 discrimination complaints filed in the county for the 2018-2019 school year involved the Snohomish School District.

One complaint pertained to a female student at Valley View Middle School who reported being called the N-word multiple times in fall 2018.

“(It) made me feel like I didn’t belong here,” the girl said in the report.

In interviews with school officials at the time, other students said they’d heard a variety of other racial slurs from classmates.

Another complaint alleged two Snohomish High School students, one black and one Latino, were harassed by classmates in late 2018.

The Latino boy was surrounded by students chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump,” the report says. Additionally, other classmates called the black student the N-word, but he told his mother not to report the incident for “fear of being further ridiculed.”

Around the same time, another Snohomish parent reported their child was concerned about a swim team member who allegedly called himself a neo-Nazi.

“They said this same student repeatedly voices hating Jews and wishing they were dead,” the report says.

District spokeswoman Kristin Foley said, “in general, across the globe, in our country and in our own community, we are hearing about increased incidents such as those.”

The district responded to the incidents by training staff to better spot prejudice, messaging parents about creating a positive school environment, and increasing opportunities for teaching about civil rights and racism in course curriculum.

“We in Snohomish value a culture of inclusion where everyone feels welcome,” Foley said Friday. “Nobody’s perfect, but we’re working to make ourselves better.”

In October, then-Deputy Superintendent Scott Peacock, who now leads the Lakewood School District, formed a group to examine racial equity in the Snohomish School District.

“They’re going to recommend things we can do to improve our culture, policies, procedures and needs for those folks who have been historically undeserved,” Foley said.

Reyes, from the Latino Education and Training Institute, said prejudiced bullying in schools is putting extra stress on minority families in the county, even forcing some to withdraw.

“We have a couple of families who are homeschooling because the pressures are greater,” she said. “If you added all the turmoil a teenager goes through … and then added race?”

Additionally, Cypers from the ADL said while hate crimes or incidents are historically underreported, minority populations are becoming more comfortable speaking out.

But that can also lead to retaliation, which scares other people from coming forward, Greene from the NAACP said.

“If they officially file a complaint then it’s on the record,” she said. “I think that’s when people get concerned, when it’s on the record. I think that’s where they get nervous.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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