Imagine what it'd be like every time you get into your car, having to see the despicable antigay slur "fag" or "faggot" carved into your car door, and to know everyone can see it wherever you drive. This is the new reality for a lesbian couple who discovered their new car had been vandalized last week, according to Portland, Ore., TV station KATU.
Jenna Dougherty told the station this is the third time someone has targeted the couple's new Subaru Forester, first with scratches, then with hate speech. "It's hard to feel safe and comfortable being here when people are doing this to your stuff," she said. Making matters worse, the alleged vandalism occurred right outside the couple's apartment in the Portland suburb of Gresham.
"I was really upset, and I knew my wife was gonna be really upset, because that in my opinion's the most offensive word that you can call somebody that's gay," Dougherty told the station. "I got on the phone with the police as soon as we saw it. They came out here and took pictures."
However, Officer Malaka Kerbs, a spokeswoman for the Gresham Police Department, told the station that this is nothing more than a criminal mischief case, because officers don't consider the f word enough evidence to call it a hate crime.
"If someone wrote the n word on my car and clearly they can look and see that [I'm] black," Kerbs said, "did they do it because they hate me because of my race or they just don't like me because they just don't like me?"
But to Dougherty, the intent isn't really relevant. "I think it shouldn't matter. You shouldn't want to do that to anybody's car regardless," Dougherty told the station. "It's not fair that I can't feel safe now because what's gonna stop them from trying to break in, what's gonna stop them from smashing our windows?"
Dougherty said in November the couple's car had been scratched with a key first on the passenger side, then a week later on the driver's side.
According to KATU, this isn't the first time hate has cropped up in Gresham. The station asked Kerbs about Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers found in another area neighborhood in November.
Kerbs said police don't consider that a hate crime either, because the fliers weren't threatening anyone in particular.
"Was there some offensive language in the flier? Yes," Kerbs said. "But that's still part of freedom of speech."
According to the FBI, "A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias." The federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 defines hate crime as a "crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of property crime, the property that is the object of the crime" motivated by prejudice based on the "race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation" of the victim."
Although laws vary from state to state, Oregon's hate-crimes law clearly says intimidation based on sexual orientation, even when it's committed to personal property, is illegal:
"A person commits the crime of intimidation in the second degree if the person: (a) tampers or interferes with property, having no right to do so nor reasonable ground to believe that the person has such right, with the intent to cause substantial inconvenience to another because of the person's perception of the other's race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation... or (B) to cause substantial damage to the property of the other person or of a member of the other person's family."
The problem for Dougherty and her wife is that police cannot prove the crime was motivated by prejudice, which is required under state and federal law.
For more, watch the report below from KATU.