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Spokane City Council to vote on new city civil rights office

Rebecca White/SPR

The City of Spokane is poised to create an office of civil rights to investigate discrimination and collect data on hate crimes in the region.

The move is supported by community groups, who say the office is desperately needed by communities that have been targeted, or disproportionately impacted, during pandemic.

In 2017, the Spokane City Council passed a set of human rights protections that went beyond state, or federal law, including people using housing vouchers, refugees and domestic violence victims, as well as other groups.

Funding for an office to investigate and catalogue those claims of discrimination is scheduled to get a vote this year.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the city council is proposing a three-person office.

“Everyone knows these problems exist,” he said, “and we’re basically saying yep, this is part of government service we do, we deliver water, we pick up garbage, we pave streets, and we try to make sure that everybody, no matter who they are, has a fair shot to participate in our community.”

Beggs says the office will have the authority to investigate claims of discrimination, educate landlords and employers, and fine them if they continue to cause issues.

Pui-Yan Lam, a community organizer who has worked to raise awareness of anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate incidents in the last year, says the new office could be a resource for victims who don’t know where to go.

"The city has to be proactive in reaching out to communities, reaching out to the public so people actually know about their rights in the first place,” she said.

Lam says she also hopes the office will study incidents in this region, and provide better data to show the true magnitude of discrimination and hate crimes in this region.

Spokane City Council will vote to establish the office and include it in the 2022 budget on Dec. 13.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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