PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Willamette University student was the victim of a possible hate crime over the weekend, authorities said.
First reported by the Statesman Journal, police confirmed the student — a 21-year-old Asian woman — was attacked on Sunday afternoon while walking to Safeway in downtown Salem. The woman was at the corner of Capitol Street and Chemeketa Street when two men allegedly pushed her down and kicked her while making disparaging, racially-charged comments.
Officials said she suffered minor physical injuries.
The first man is described as 5 feet 6 inches tall with a big build, long curly blond hair and facial hair. He was reportedly wearing a gray shirt and black snow hat. Police say the second man is described as standing around 5-feet-11, with a thin build and brown hair. He was wearing a button-down shirt and a snow hat.
The two men could face second-degree bias crime and harassment charges, Luietenant Treven Upkes, a spokesperson with the Salem Police Department said. No arrests have been made at this time.
Willamette University Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Lisa Landreman addressed the incident in an email to the school community.
“Today we were horrified to learn about a racially-motivated hate crime involving physical violence and harassment, targeted at a Willamette student,” the email read, in part. “It’s important to acknowledge these crimes and for all members of our community to resist ill-informed, biased perspectives about Asian people and to denounce this violence.”
Landreman told KOIN 6 News, “This is the first incident of its kind that we are aware of in Salem or at Willamette.” She said that based on misinformation involving people of Asian descent and the coronavirus pandemic, the attack on the woman in Salem was likely not an isolated event.
“I think it’s perpetuated racism and rhetoric directed towards a community of people,” said Landreman, who added that the victim in Salem is “physically OK” but shocked by what happened.
Anyone with more information about the incident is encouraged to contact the Salem Police Department at 503.588.6123. Salem Police Lt. Debbie Aguilar said, “We really want to encourage victims to contact the police we really take this seriously, we want people to be held accountable. We want people to know this kind of behavior is not okay.”
“We want to denounce the hate, we want to communicate that this does not reflect the community that we want to be. It does not reflect the values of who we are,” said Gretchen Bennet, a liaison with the City of Salem Human Rights Commission. “We think a crime like this is horrible and we want to walk alongside each person who experiences something along the lines of hate or bias and communicate that.”
The Oregon Department of Justice said there were 21 reports of anti-Asian bias in February, up from nine in January. Of those 21 reports, 67% were classified as bias crimes.
To report any possible bias crime, call the Oregon Department of Justice Bias Response Hotline at 1.844.924.BIAS or online at standagainsthate.oregon.gov.