A City’s Response Against Hate
After their home was targeted in another hate crime, Xia Wang and Ben Christensen received an outpouring of support and strength from the community. Over the course of two days, neighbors, friends, and strangers gathered to help remove the red marks left from the drive-by paintball attack.
As previously reported, this was the fourth time their house had been targeted. Before the community came to help clean, Wang said that she had been scared to leave her home.
Wang and Christensen are outspoken civil rights advocates in Lane County, regularly attending both the Eugene and Springfield city council meetings to demand reform in the cities’ police departments. Usually, their requests receive no reply.
Following this most recent hate crime incident, Wang and Christensen have been contacted by representatives from both Eugene and Springfield, as well as Lane County.
On Monday, July 19, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis sent an email to the couple. Wang said she viewed the email as insincere. Instead of focusing on Wang and Christensen, Vinis focused on her own feelings regarding the hate crime.
Vinis had no issue identifying this as a hate crime, unlike the Lane County Sheriff’s Office who cannot classify this as a hate crime until further investigation is done. According to Oregon Statutes 166.165 and 166.155 intent must be proven for a crime to fit the the definition of a hate crime.
She said in the email that she appreciates the couple’s willingness to speak out against hate crimes in the community and realized that their outspokenness could have contributed to the attacks.
Vinis also expressed that she felt grateful that Wang’s neighbors responded with “action and care” though she offered no form of support or aid from the city. It is unknown if Vinis contacted LCSO with her concerns.
Wang chose not to respond. Christensen, however, took some time drafting a reply to Vinis.
On July 19, Fabio Andrade from the Eugene’s Office of Human Rights & Neighborhood Involvement also reached out to schedule a meeting with the city manager, Sarah Medary.
Medary and Andrade met with the couple at their home later that afternoon.
According to Wang and Christensen, the response from the city is simple: their hands are tied. This is because Wang and Christensen’s home is technically located in an unincorporated part of Lane County. Therefore, the City of Eugene has no jurisdiction over crimes occurring at their home.
So, in the end, the City Manager and Office of Human Rights are unable to do anything to rectify the situation.
Double Sided Media contacted Laura Hammond, the city’s community relations director for comment. After making initial contact, Hammond did not return further requests for comment.
Springfield’s city council president, Steve Moe, attended the second day of clean-up efforts after the hate crime. According to Wang and Christensen, he did not come prepared to help clean or paint.
He arrived dressed in formal clothes, and spent time chatting with community members — barely speaking to Wang and Christensen in the process.
Mayor VanGordon also sent an email to the couple. In his short correspondence, he said he was curious about how they were holding up and said to reach out if there’s anything he can do.
Neither Wang or Christensen responded.
Over the weekend, the LCSO was slow to begin investigation into their case. On July 20, four days after the incident, LCSO posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts asking for anyone with information about the case to call in.
Twitter Post from Lane County Sheriff Asking for Anyone with Tips to Call In
Twitter post from LCSO asking for anyone with tips to call-in.
On July 21, Double Sided Media noticed multiple errors in the Twitter post and reached out to LCSO’s Public Information Officer, Sergeant Tom Speldrich.
Sgt. Speldrich responded quickly and said that he is responsible for updating their social media accounts. When made aware of the first error, he was apologetic after quickly realizing that he listed the number to the District Attorney’s office instead of the Sheriff’s Office for citizens to call with tips.
He also realized he made the same mistake on Facebook and said he would update both immediately.
The second discrepancy involved the date LCSO claimed that they had received the footage. Speldrich explained that the responding deputy didn’t obtain the video from the victims right away. The deputy said that he had tried to contact Wang and Christensen all weekend but received no response.
As of Thursday July 22, Wang and Christensen said that they hadn’t been contacted by LCSO and noted that the responding deputy only spent roughly five minutes at their home.
DSM obtained a copy of the email sent by Christensen dated the day of the incident.
The business card left by the responding officer with the case number and contact information for Lane County Sheriff’s Office. Along with the email sent by Christensen providing follow up information and videos.
[Courtesy of Xia Wang // Double Sided Media]
After a few phone calls were exchanged, Speldrich confirmed that the footage was received earlier than the deputy claimed. He removed the date from the Facebook post but was unable to edit their post on Twitter.
Also, on Wednesday, Pat Farr, a Lane County Commissioner, reached out to the couple and scheduled a sit-down at their house at 4 p.m. the following day.
DSM was present during the sit-down meeting.
Farr arrived to meet the couple and talk about what had happened. He explained that he was alerted to the news by their neighbor on the day of the attack when they were concerned that the cops had not shown up within a reasonable amount of time.
Commissioner Farr continued to explain that there is a loss of service due to living in county jurisdiction for things like the police. Farr claimed that LCSO only has two full-time sheriffs on duty who are responsible for all of Lane County.
This is incorrect. The minimum staffing levels for the Sheriff’s Office require three deputies and a sergeant on duty during day shifts and two deputies and one sergeant during night shifts. Altogether, LCSO has 25 deputies on their payroll. In addition, there are two deputies assigned to patrol the rural eastern parts of the county and two deputies assigned to the western area near the coast. At any given time, there are at least six deputies patrolling the county.
The sheriff’s office is funded through the general fund that is obtained through grants based on timber harvest.
“For well over 90 years, Lane County citizens have relied on timber harvest revenue from federal Oregon & California (O&C) railroad lands to fund a significant portion of critical county services. These services include Sheriff’s patrols, the adult jail, criminal prosecution, youth detention, public health, and elections. However, revenue from federal timber harvests began a significant decline with the change in federal forest policies in the early 90’s. From 1992 through 2000, the County was forced to make numerous budget cuts… while trying to preserve essential services.”
Naturally, since there has been a decrease in timber harvesting in Lane County, the funding for sheriff’s services has decreased as well.
Simply put, according to Farr, the county is stretched too thin.
He went on to explain that this is still no excuse for the lack of concern and investigation Wang and Christensen feel that they have received from LCSO.
Farr asked the couple about the hate crime, the community clean-up, and the inconsistencies in the social media posts regarding the case. Farr explained that he is good friends with Lane County Sheriff, Cliff Harrold, and he intended to make a big deal out of this.
He wouldn’t say what his plan of action was. He told the couple to not take him at his word, but to watch what he does.
Farr also claimed that Lane County is looking to handle behavioral issues in a different way. He has hopes of establishing a crisis center as an alternative to jail, which would focus on mental health treatment instead of incarceration.
Wang said that she appreciated Farr’s support, but explained that this is a hate crime and not a mental health crisis. She also wants the government to think outside of the box when it comes to policing.
“Look at my case,” said Wang. “This is the fourth time this has happened. What did the police do? Prevention did not happen. Who keeps me safe?”
Wang wants to know “why they did this, why do they hate me, and do they even know me?”
Farr asked Wang, “what does prevention look like? What happens if we find the culprits? What if it’s a group and not an individual?” Lane County has declared racism a public health crisis. Farr said if the community speaks out about something, then the government needs to take action because, without that, [they’re] just platitudes.
Farr went on to say that “there is no room for complacency, this is something we’re not going to tolerate.”
Wang wants both the city and the county to pool their resources together to form an “Anti-Racism Response Team” to respond to hate crimes – regardless of whether they occur on city or county land.
Wang also replied that the community needs to be more connected to root-out hatred. Wang believes that white, male cops are insulated from issues affecting BIPOC and that the lack of action by authorities is really a race issue.
There are not enough safe places for these fears to be addressed with the community, Wang said. Due to these issues, most hate crimes are not reported. Farr agreed, adding that hate crimes are not reported because there is no trust that they will be handled appropriately.
Wang told Farr about reaching her GoFundMe goal to create a “Community Art Against Hate” mural. She wants to place this mural in the safe space she has set up in the front yard following the community clean-up.
Farr said that he hopes that what happened to Wang and Christensen will serve as a catalyst for change in the community.
He believes that Sheriff Harrold will be the source to make this happen. He said “that the Sheriff is appalled by white supremacy and by criminal health slaves.” (Editor’s Note: We have not been able to ascertain what Farr meant by “criminal health slaves”.)
To back this claim, he brought up the fact that two local area Proud Boys were cited for violations after holding an un-permitted parade in Creswell celebrating the Fourth of July. Christensen was unimpressed.
“Big deal, so what?” he said.
“At least Lane County is doing something,” Farr quickly replied. “Springfield didn’t.”
“What good did it do?” Christensen said, showing Farr an invitation to a rally being held July 24 in Creswell in response to the citations. Wang added that events like these are traumatizing to BIPOC communities which result in an increase in fear.
“Ultimately, these issues will not be resolved unless [District Attorney Patricia Perlow] is removed,” Christensen said. He believes that the district attorney aids in the toleration of white supremacy and uses bias and racist practices when adjudicating cases.
Farr seemed upset with this news. He told Christensen and Wang he plans to do something about this, but again, he wouldn’t say what.
The commissioner left after spending more than two hours with the couple. During that time, he never mentioned that in 1982, Lane County entered into a Metro Plan with the cities of Eugene and Springfield. This plan includes a mutual aid agreement between the various law enforcement agencies in the area.
According to the Eugene Police Department’s Public Information Officer, Melinda McLaughlin, “there are no specific rules” regarding this agreement, “however local agencies are really good about responding to support each other’s calls.” During an emergency, EPD would automatically respond to provide cover. During a non-emergency, EPD would provide cover if requested. Whether or not that request needs to come from the agency or the citizen is unclear.
On July 25, Wang received an email from Lane County Commissioner, Jay Bozievich, after she had reached out to him along with other government officials earlier in the week.
Bozievich declined to even comment and said that he has “a policy against speaking to those involved in ongoing investigations and to wait until the investigation is completed.” In her reply, Wang brought up how several other local officials have done so already.
The same day, Wang and Christensen invited community members to Maurie Jacobs Park for “Community Art Against Hate” to aid in painting a community mural that will be displayed at their home.
Beginning at 1 p.m., a few dozen community members arrived to partake in painting a two-piece mural with the direction of two local artists and members—Lisa Yu and Shawn Goddard—of the BIPOC Artist Collective.
Notably, the artist collective painted the yellow “Black Lives Matter” mural in front of the federal courthouse on June 19, 2020 — also known as Juneteenth. By the next morning, it had been defaced with a vehicle’s skid marks. Undeterred, the collective returned and used the skid marks to their advantage: a border for countless rainbow-colored hand-prints.
Mica Contreras of the Community Alliance of Lane County and Shawn Goddard of the BIPOC Art Collective work on the two-piece mural before other community members joined-in to help.
[Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]
The mural, being translated onto two large plants from a completed smaller prototype, read “97404 Beloved Community” and featured many colorful butterflies coming out of an open palm. The background was a partial map of the streets of Santa Clara, whose zip code is 97404.
After several hours, the two planks were filled with the community members’ artwork and were ready to be taken home for their final touches by the two artists prior to being placed at Wang and Christensen’s home.
Commissioner Farr was the only public figure to attend the event.