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Demos Issue Apology Grievance System Planned 2 1/2 Years After Racial Slurs

Thu., June 22, 1995

(From For the Record, Friday, June 23, 1995:) The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons did not join a lawsuit against the Spokane Democratic Party. The NAACP’s involvement in the matter was incorrectly reported Thursday.

Spokane County Democrats have a message for minorities.

“We’re sorry.”

Sorry for racial slurs uttered some 2 1/2 years ago, for gestures made as party officials tried to discuss the slurs and for any retaliation against the people who had complained about the slurs or gestures.

No qualifiers, no words such as “alleged” that accompanied some previous apologies.

The Democratic Central Committee voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to issue the apology and set up a formal grievance procedure to investigate affirmative action complaints.

That vote will allow the party and some of its former officials to settle a lawsuit they face from the Japanese-American Citizens League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a handful of party activists who refused to let the matter drop.

“I feel good today,” said County Chairman Jimmy Sirmans. “It was a tremendous hurdle we have to overcome.”

A formal announcement, along with a public apology, probably will take place next week.

The controversy started when a party official used the word “chinks” in reference to the Hong Kong company that purchased the Davenport Hotel. The slur was made during a November 1992 meeting of party leaders and was attributed to two different officials. Both denied it, and the apology does not name names.

The controversy prompted the state party to move its 1994 convention from Spokane to Richland. It caused Asian-Americans to threaten a protest during President Clinton’s 1993 visit to Seattle for an international trade conference. It hurt local Democrats when they tried to recruit members of minorities into the party.

It also generated a federal lawsuit, with a file now 4 inches thick and a trial scheduled to start next month.

Asian-Americans said all along that what they wanted was an apology. At first, party leaders said the slur couldn’t be proved. Then they said the party could not apologize for the actions of individuals.

Later, they apologized for remarks that may have been said or gestures that may have been made.

“It is a bittersweet victory. It has been a long time,” said Karen Yoshitomi, regional director for the citizens league. “I think it’s a good start.”

Sirmans, elected to the party’s top spot early this year, said both sides of the lawsuit sat down with a professional mediator to work out the settlement.

He sometimes wonders why such an apology couldn’t have been offered more than two years ago.

“Maybe with a new administration, things look different,” he said.

, DataTimes


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