Last year, a man of dark, dangerous beliefs attempted to put an indelible stamp of hatred on the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in downtown Spokane. He rigged a backpack with explosives and placed it along the parade route.
Had he been successful, many people would’ve been injured. Perhaps some would’ve been killed. The event itself would’ve forever resided under a cloud of uncertainty and apprehension. The national media would’ve once again painted the Inland Northwest with a broad brush.
Fortunately, the plot of white supremacist Kevin W. Harpham, of Addy, Wash., was thwarted, and he was eventually arrested and convicted.
Mark Steiner, Brandon Klaus and Sherman Welpton, who were temporary workers for the Public Facilities District, discovered the backpack and alerted the police. They cannot be thanked enough. Two Spokane police officers, Sgts. Eric Olsen and Jason Hartman, also deserve deep gratitude for calmly diverting the march.
After the sentencing of Harpham to 32 years in prison, Ivan Bush, one of the march organizers, pointed to this year’s event: “I hope it’s bigger and better than ever. It’s especially important for us to stand up, to show up … and come out with a strong voice that we don’t tolerate this kind of stuff in our community.”
This would be a wonderful rebuke to Harpham and like-minded people who choose the cowardice of stealth plots and Internet pseudonyms to spread their vile messages. A march centered on unity and nonviolence would also be in keeping with King’s exhortations to resist the bait of hate.
As he once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The Spokane Police Department will deploy 12 to 15 more officers on Monday. Alternate routes have been planned. The stepped-up security won’t be cheap, but it’s worth it to protect those who will take part in this important community event.
However, the police need help. There haven’t been any credible threats thus far, but Harpham didn’t tip his hand last year. Lt. Joe Walker, who is overseeing march security, is urging people to be on the lookout for anything suspicious, including unattended packages, bags, backpacks and the like. If something doesn’t seem right, find a police officer.
Harpham’s bid for infamy has inadvertently increased the resolve of the community to stand up to hate. It was the Rev. King who warned of the dangers of remaining mum.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” he said.
Here’s to a boisterous Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Inland Northwest.