PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is looking into possible bias crime charges stemming from a violent attack that was caught on camera at a Southeast Portland gas station.
While prosecutors consider their options, Randy Blazak, a sociologist who studies hate crimes, told KOIN 6 News the situation could fit the description of a bias crime.
Blazak is the Chair of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes. He watched the video of a suspect, later identified in court documents as Brian Miller, trashing the convenience store.
The store owner’s son shared the video with KOIN 6 News, but did not want to share his name or his father’s name due to safety concerns.
He said Miller came in to buy cigarettes Friday night.
In the video, the suspect is heard saying, “Is that how we do things in America, Afghan? Al Qaeda? Osama? Huh, is it?”
Blazak said this kind of harassment harkens back to a bad era of prejudices.
“This looks like a hate crime similar to what we saw after 9/11 when there was a 400% increase in the number of hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims,” Blazak said.
He said hate crimes have been on the rise since 2016 and workers in the service sector are targeted often.
“That’s where people who come from non-diverse environments run into people who are different from them,” Blazak explained, “in places like gas stations and hotels and quickie marts, and so these become kind of flash points.”
Court documents show Miller was arrested Saturday on criminal mischief and robbery charges and was released. The store owner’s son feels this is an example of white privilege and calls it “a slap on the wrist.”
Blazak said prosecutors will likely think about the impact both on the victim and larger community when considering whether to charge it as a bias crime.
“Members of especially Middle Eastern communities, Arab and Muslim communities will be reminded of their vulnerability, that there are people out there that want to target them because of their faith or their national origin,” he said. “And so, we see kind of a level of anxiety that rises in those communities.”
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office sent a statement on the case Sunday saying, “All potential bias crime cases, whether they are a felony or misdemeanor, are reviewed by the Violent Crimes Unit within the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office. We have been working with the Portland Police Bureau’s Bias Crime detective to gather all available police report and evidence associated with this incident so the case can be reviewed by Monday’s expected court appearance.”