Efforts to stop racism in Spokane require a unified community effort and zero tolerance for hate attacks or speech, a group of city leaders said Wednesday.
About 80 people attended a morning session at Gonzaga University to brainstorm strategies to counterattack racism.
The group included Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty and dozens of community leaders, called there by Gonzaga University President Bernard Coughlin.
What came from the session was a laundry list of ideas. Some focus on education, most involve helping push diversity training and recruitment of minorities to area universities and businesses.
The consensus view was, short of a massive effort, the face of racism will continue showing up in this area.
“As one of the people at my table said, ‘A group hug is not going to solve anything. It’s time for action,”’ said Christine Schnug, chairwoman of Spokane’s Chamber of Commerce.
Coughlin organized the meeting after several black students at GU received racist hate letters or suffered vandalism in the past 14 months.
The school has offered a $26,000 reward for the identity of those writing the letters.
“We have become convinced this is a symptom of a much wider problem of intolerance in the city and region,” Coughlin suggested.
“This meeting was an attempt to address it at its root, systematically, rather than with a piecemeal approach.”
After an hour of group discussion, the meeting generated several suggestions for combating the problem. They included:
Stronger education programs in the community to attack racism and to help eliminate it at the primary-school level.
Clear messages of zero tolerance among civic business leaders that racism will not be tolerated in the workplace.
“There has to be a position much like saying no one gets away running red lights anymore,” said Steven Covington, CEO of Eastern State Hospital.
“People have to be accountable, and people have to be told that behavior is not going to be overlooked or ignored,” Covington said.
More attention to the diverse cultures Spokane has but seldom sees in the spotlight. Minorities make up about 9 percent of Spokane County’s population.
A wide-based, no-holds-barred discussion of racism in the community.
“We talk all around the issue of race because we’re afraid of it,” said Jennifer Roseman, development director for Community Colleges of Spokane.
More diligent efforts to recruit minorities in the work force. That needs to be coupled with stronger efforts to educate employers on minority issues.
“I know there’s misinformation out there,” said Chamber President Rich Hadley, citing instances of area employers telling others they’re afraid to hire minorities for fear “you can never fire them later.”
Once those efforts take hold, people around the region will see Spokane as a “hate-free zone,” said Paul Smith, the state Department of Correction’s affirmative action officer for Eastern Washington.
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