An organizer of Spokane’s annual march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. criticized community leaders Tuesday for not opening an honest dialogue about race issues after last month’s march was targeted with a bomb.
“What do we say to our kids?” said Ivan Bush, a longtime civil rights leader in Spokane. “What do we say to them about that day when a community stood up with a hump in the back and didn’t make a real statement? What do we say to them? How do we go back and face them and talk about the greatness of a community? We can’t in a legitimate way. We did not when the time was there. I’m hurt. I’m pained, and I’m full of rage.”
Speaking at a city-sponsored forum about violence held at the Spokane City Council chambers, Bush also said the African-American community hasn’t been kept informed.
“Everybody was affected by it, but those of us who felt that we were most affected, why weren’t we in the information loop?” Bush asked. “If there’s any black folks here who say they’ve been in the loop, stand up.”
Bush, however, singled out Mayor Mary Verner as a leader who had tried to keep the community informed.
“The reason we are hosting this discussion here tonight is that we don’t want to put anything under the rug,” Verner said. “I’m really glad and proud that you threw the issue out that we have to acknowledge that we have race relation problems in the city of Spokane.”
The forum, which was attended by about 100 people, was announced late last week and billed as a forum on violence. The bomb, however, wasn’t mentioned until Bush mentioned it 40 minutes into the forum.
Verner, Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed the crowd and took questions. Citizens and the panelists addressed a variety of issues including domestic violence, funding shortfalls for social services, gang violence and questions about the proposed new county jail. Much of Tuesday night’s two-hour event focused on the recent spike of officer shootings within Spokane County.
“We have law enforcement officers who are concerned about encountering violence from citizens, and we have citizens who are concerned about encountering violence from law enforcement officers,” Verner said in her opening statement.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged that officer-involved shootings have risen in Spokane. She said there’s also been an increase statewide and that she’s sought out experts to see if there might be underlying reasons for the spike.
“I can’t find anything that’s talked about what’s the real sociological reason that drives these waves,” Kirkpatrick said.
Knezovich and Kirkpatrick noted that seven law enforcement officers were killed last year in Washington.
Toni Lodge, executive director of the NATIVE Project in Spokane, echoed many of Bush’s concerns. She said no Native American groups were invited to the forum until an hour before it started.
“We have to have a conversation of race in this community,” Lodge said. “We have to undo racism. It is the root of so many of our issues.”
Representatives from the Spokane branch of the NAACP said they will hold a community forum called “Talk Out” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the East Central Community Center. The event will focus on the bomb, race relations, policing and other issues.