Guilty plea doesn’t close book on racism, says march leader
Organizers of the annual march targeted by a racist wannabe bomber say Spokane can’t forget about what happened just because the defendant pleaded guilty.
“This is one of the symptoms that is trying to send us a message that we as a community have some work to do,” said Ivan Bush, co-director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee. “I’m not just talking about segments of the community. We need to have some tough conversations and a plan of action of how we’re going to heal.”
Kevin W. Harpham, 37, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to two of the four counts he faced for planting a homemade bomb on the route of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Spokane on Jan. 17. Under a plea deal that still must be approved by a judge, Harpham faces 27 to 32 years in prison.
“I’m just glad and hopeful that justice is prevailing here,” Bush said.
Pastor Happy Watkins, the other co-director of the King planning committee, praised law enforcement efforts to bring Harpham to justice. He said he’s hopeful that Harpham can change in prison.
“In the business I’m in, I’ve got to believe people can change,” said Watkins, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church.
V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, however, said considering the lives Harpham put at risk, the plea deal is too lenient.
“He had no conscience of what he was going to do, the people he was going to murder,” Smith said.
She also criticized a statement from U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby who said Harpham will be “a very elderly man” when he leaves prison. Under the deal, Harpham could be as young as 60 when he leaves prison. Smith noted that Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler promoted hate into his 80s.
Harpham placed the bomb at the corner of Washington Street and Main Avenue across from Auntie’s Bookstore. Auntie’s manager Melissa Opel called Harpham’s decision to plead guilty “a good first step.”
“People we work with and care about a lot could have been hurt. Innocent people could have been hurt,” Opel said. “I really hope that in the time he’s in prison he really thinks about the people he could have hurt.”
Emmanuel Cannady, a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, said there’s special significance to having a major development in the Department of Justice’s case against Harpham coming so close to the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
“It’s nice to see that we’re fighting terrorism on all fronts,” he said.
March organizers will start planning next year’s events celebrating King in the coming weeks. “I would hope and pray that this is the largest ever,” Bush said. “We need to send a message that we’re together.”
Rabbi Michael Goldstein of Temple Beth Shalom said he’ll be at the next march and that the community should hear Bush’s call.
“I would hope that all people of good will would respond and recognize that the message of Dr. Martin Luther King is best kept alive through an awareness of how much we have in common and how much we support one another.”