The Inland Northwest needs a booster shot of awareness to jolt the region into action against racism and hate, human rights leaders said Thursday.
The inoculation is scheduled for April 12 when leaders from throughout the area will gather in Coeur d’Alene to rally for the cause of human rights.
“We want to provide an occasion for people to renew their commitment … and to recognize we have a ways to go,” said Bill Wassmuth, executive director of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment.
“We hope to run out of room,” he added.
The coalition and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations are among the sponsors of the Leadership Gathering, which aims to launch a new phase in countering the negative image of North Idaho and the surrounding region.
Wassmuth mentioned a handful of recent events that confirm the problem reaches beyond image:
The men suspected of bombing U.S. Bank, Planned Parenthood and The Spokesman-Review buildings in the Spokane Valley are from Sandpoint. The suspects left notes indicating that they belong to a white separatist group called the Phineas Priesthood.
A Survivalist Expo in Spokane featured racist speakers and vendors offering racist, anti-Semitic materials.
A nationwide manhunt is seeking two Colville brothers - known supremacists - for the recent videotaped attack on police officers in Ohio.
Wassmuth said the solution needs to involve everyone and address more than the most visible examples of racism.
“We’re not just dealing with the people who are the extremists,” he said. “This region has an ongoing problem with built-in racism and bigotry that’s institutionalized….It’s not just an anti-Aryan Nations effort.”
Business leaders at the press conference voiced concern that the negative image is hurting the economy. In February, Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone called for an image summit, in part to repair the damage done by the negative publicity that racists and racist activities draw to North Idaho.
“Our main concern is how a great community tends to be indicted by the actions of a few,” said Pat McGaughey, director of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
Brenda Hammond, president of the Bonner County Task Force on Human Rights, said that Sandpoint businesses have similar worries about their community’s image.
“There’s a concern by the human rights community that we’re too concerned about the image…that we may overlook the real dangers that do exist,” she said.
Spokane and Gonzaga University are seeing the effects of the image problem, said Bob Bartlett, Gonzaga’s director of cultural affairs.
“Gonzaga has a difficult time recruiting staff and faculty who hear about hate letters and the Aryan Nations,” he said. “It’s a regional problem.”
Bob Potter of Jobs Plus, the private nonprofit organization that recruits businesses to Kootenai County, said that when he first came to the area, he was impressed with the massive effort to rid the community of racism.
Those efforts won the city the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Community Award for human rights in 1987, but Potter had a hard time finding the plaque in City Hall to show to a client recently. (It had been moved from the lobby to the Council Chambers).
“Suddenly it hit me that this effort needs to be revitalized,” Potter said. “We need to get the spirit back in this county.”
The 10th anniversary of the formation of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, Hagadone’s call for an image summit and recent racist activity all converged to prompt human rights leaders to call for the gathering.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Where and when The Leadership Gathering is scheduled for 7 to 9:30 p.m. April 12 in the Coeur d’Alene Inn Conference Center. The event is free, and everyone is invited. The program will include speakers, musical entertainment and a panel discussion.