October 24, 2019
Members of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, including District Attorney Rod Underhill, First Assistant Jeff Howes and Chief Deputy District Attorneys Don Rees and John Casalino attended the fourth annual Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities event held at the Muslim Educational Trust in Tigard, Oregon.
It is because of the leadership and support of Wajdi Said, the president and co-founder of the Muslim Educational Trust, that this annual event has become so well-attended. Said has been instrumental in forming relationships with community members.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is a proud supporter of the Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities event.
“I’ve been amazed and inspired at how successful this program has become,” said Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill. “This event continues to grow each year and that is the result of the dedication of the Muslim Educational Trust, local law enforcement, particularly the United States Attorney’s Office, and of course our community. From this event, we bring back more knowledge, understanding and compassion and can share with the office. These events are so important because they give us the opportunity to learn from community perspectives to foster raw and meaningful discussions. The stories we heard today were emotional, powerful and they push us to do better.”
This year’s Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities event focused on confronting hate. The concept was to create a united coalition of individuals to confront hate and prevent, respond to and seek justice when incidents and crimes motivated by hate and racism are committed in our communities.
Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett said during his opening remarks that everyone deserves the right to feel safe in our community and that law enforcement is deeply committed to ensuring a dedicated response.
First Assistant Howes was a panelist during Thursday’s sold out event. Howes was a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Task Force, which helped draft the language that was in Senate Bill 577.
“My biggest take away from the Hate Crimes Task Force was the three listening sessions that we attended,” Howes said. “They were difficult…as [we] listened intently as people told heart-wrenching stories about what they had been through — what bias crimes and bias incidents and horrors they had suffered.”
“Fighting hate had to be a priority,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said during opening remarks when addressing her task force.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon, which has facilitated and planned each year’s event, remarked that in 2016, the coalition identified barriers to trust between police and the public.
“This community is leading the way across the country addressing these very issues,” said Billy Williams, Oregon’s U.S. Attorney.
In 2017, the coalition examined the brain science of implicit bias and its role in public safety.
In 2018, the group shared tangible changes and measureable impacts occurring in our communities, which included a shortened performance of Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments.
After seeing that performance and recognizing its importance and impact, DA Underhill invited Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments to perform at a mandatory training for all deputy district attorneys in the office. Support staff, victim advocates and investigators also attended the training.
“This was the first time a district attorney’s office has hosted the performance in Oregon,” DA Underhill remarked. “Our criminal justice system cannot function without trust and understanding. Events like Building Bridges of Understanding in Our Communities helps to foster trust and to build relationships. It provides an opportunity for us to come together, learn, listen and share.
DA Underhill wants to encourage all individuals who have been subjected to a bias crime or bias incident to contact law enforcement.
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. If a misdemeanor bias crimes case is issued, the felony-level attorney will retain the case.
If you are the victim of a bias crime or bias incident or you are witnessing one, immediately call 9-1-1. If you are the victim of a bias crime or bias incident and the suspect is no longer present or if you have information about a bias crime or bias incident committed in the past, call the non-emergency line at 503-823-3333.
The Muslim Educational Trust was founded in 1993 in response to the community’s needs in the metro area. It is dedicated to the betterment of society and strives to achieve its purpose through education, cooperation, networking, and programs that benefit Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the region.
Photo gallery from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office:
Contact: Brent Weisberg, Communications Director