Spokane Mayor Mary Verner quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and spoke of the city’s “long history” of standing against crimes based on race at a news conference Wednesday.
City Council President Joe Shogan talked about his father fighting Nazis in World War II and urged the community to carry on the Greatest Generation’s legacy.
But the president of the Spokane branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was less circumspect, telling city officials and others that combating racism takes more than a public denouncement of skinheads and suggesting institutional racism is still tolerated by community leaders.
Racism “is much more complex” than the elite and the bigots think, said V. Anne Smith.
“So the struggle to stop this is more difficult, not because racism is more entrenched and complicated, but because of the denial this city and other cities have experienced throughout the years,” Smith said. “It’s not always the good ol’ boys or the rednecks. They are the three-piece-suit-wearing people. They look like young preppies.”
The news conference at City Hall was in response to a human rights activist discovering a noose on her doorstep in north Spokane Sept. 20.
Leaders from cities across the Inland Northwest held a similar news conference last month when Aryan Nations literature was found in several neighborhoods. But eradicating racism takes much more and seeps into the economic and structural system of society, Smith said, pointing to the small number of black people working in Spokane.
“Just don’t react when an incident happens. Have it year-round,” Smith said. “… For those who quote Dr. King, I feel if Dr. King was here today I believe he would wake up and realize that God’s children are not free of racism and hate.”
She called for a “strong and visible work force” to help fight the area’s reputation as a haven for hate or “Spokane and Coeur d’Alene one day will become a mecca for those who would use ropes to make nooses and spread hate literature.”
Verner, whose face reddened during Smith’s speech, thanked her afterward and asked if any of the dozens of community leaders gathered in the Chase Gallery wished to speak. None did.
“Your presence today speaks volumes,” Verner said. “As Ms. Smith has challenged us to do, we stand ready.”