Statistics on a surge of hate crimes on Capitol Hill are one thing. The piercing personal testimony from Jackie Sandberg, at a forum held Tuesday at All Pilgrims Church about those hate crimes, was something else entirely.
"A queer-phobic couple attacked me with skateboards," Sandberg told the crowd, before breaking down momentarily. "They beat us up with our skateboards while we were inside our sleeping bags. Since the attack wasn't seen on camera, there was no way to hold them accountable."
Sandberg, who works with Peace for the Streets by the Kids from the Streets (PSKS), said when they go to shelters, they still see the couple who attacked them. (Sandberg uses the gender pronoun "they.")
Last year, they said, "I was attacked by an SPD officer who kicked me several times in the chest. I had trouble breathing for two weeks afterwards and was coughing up blood. He said something about how I was a 'faggot.'"
I wasn't able to find Sandberg after the forum ended or reach them today to learn more about these allegations. (A Seattle police spokesperson says the allegation about the officer will be referred to the Office of Professional Accountability.)
But it was clear on Tuesday that their comments struck a chord. Sandberg made one simple call to action: "The city needs to open a LGBTQ homeless youth shelter... It's not safe anywhere else."
At this, the crowd of hundreds burst into applause. When they finished speaking and sat down, the crowd applauded them again, this time rising to their feet and cheering. Several speakers expressed support for the idea.
As the forum wrapped up, city council member Kshama Sawant pledged to fight to open a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, and to fully fund it in the city's budget. "That's a high priority for us," she said.
Her office organized the forum and co-moderated it with Danielle Askini of the Gender Justice League.
"When we talk about the number of hate crimes," Askini said, "it's important to know that less than half of them [are reported]." She said there's a distinct lack of official data collection on hate violence.
Reported crimes involving bias in Seattle rose from 110 in 2013 to 126 in 2014, according to the SPD. Deputy Chief Carmen Best, in an interview with KOMO, characterized that as a "slight uptick," but said the level of hate crimes has held relatively steady over the years.
Regardless of the numbers, Askini said at the forum, "What is clear is that hate violence is a serious problem on Capitol Hill."
Lils Fujikawa urged the group to go beyond thinking of hate crimes as typically perpetrated by strangers or homeless people, and to include "violence that might be state-sanctioned or coming from police, or even violence that's coming from our partners or our families." Her organization, API Chaya, organizes against domestic violence.
In response to the rash of hate crimes, the city should not put more money into policing, Fujikawa said, because "we recognize that policing is also targeting our communities." That earned her a round of applause.
Early on, Sawant invited Mayor Murray to the stage and they cordially shook hands. Murray talked about his own history in the neighborhood and the progress that has been made on gay marriage and other fronts. He talked about Q Patrol—a citizen brigade that was active in the '90s.
"What is the answer that's going to work today?" Murray asked. "Back then, there were no out-LGBT police officers. Today there are dozens and dozens. They want to be part of the dialogue and part of the answer."
Murray reiterated his emphasis on the need for police to be responsive to LGBTQ needs in interviews with TV news crews like KIRO.
At the close of the event, Sawant said a "debt of gratitude" was owed to Sandberg for speaking out about their experiences. The best way to honor that courage, she said, is with concrete, tangible actions .
More to come on some of those actions—what's in the works already, what the mayor is interested in doing, and what the event organizers think of his priorities—soon.
This post has been updated with Jackie Sandberg's correct gender pronoun. I regret the error.