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March organizers say last year’s threat strengthened resolve

Spokane civic leaders have taken part in Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations since 1984. The King celebration in downtown Spokane Monday will carry extra meaning for many taking part.

Authorities were alerted to an unexploded backpack bomb along the march route last year. Kevin Harpham, the man convicted of planting that bomb, was sentenced last month to 32 years in prison.

“Definitely this year we will be making a statement that we’re standing up, we’re not going to just stand by,” said Ivan Bush, one of the event’s co-chairs.

Bush and others involved in organizing this year’s event, which starts at 10 a.m. with the annual Unity March, don’t plan to call attention to last year’s threat.

“We don’t need to change the event this year in any way,” said the Rev. Happy Watkins, the other co-chair of Spokane’s King Day celebration. “That was an isolated attack, and they caught the guy who perpetrated it,” he said.

If anything, the event needs to continue as it has been, Watkins said.

Even so, he agrees with Bush that Monday’s events present an occasion for solidarity and strength in numbers.

“If there’s any special theme this year,” Watkins said, “it’s that the event from last year cannot stop us. We’re moving ahead.”

When authorities last year discovered the bomb, they routed the marchers away from the traditional route. This year’s march, which starts at the INB Performing Arts Center, will follow the traditional route south on Bernard Street, then west along Main Avenue.

Authorities have said they’ll have more officers assigned to the march to ensure security. Watkins said the organizing committee was told there will be “more security than last year, but you won’t really see it.”

Watkins said the typical turnout for the march is roughly 2,000 participants. This year the number could reach 3,000, he said. “I believe we’ll have lots more people coming to join us because of last year,” he said.

Bush, who has worked with Watkins and other organizers on most of the King celebrations here since they began, said he dealt with personal attacks for a good part of the first 20 events.

“The worst thing was the hate calls I would get, that threatened me or my family,” said Bush, who is Spokane Public Schools’ equal opportunity officer.

Those calls had a trait similar to the bomb from last year, he said: The perpetrators hid behind anonymity to send a message of hatred.

During the years the calls kept coming, Bush used them as a teaching opportunity for his family, he said. “We used it as a way to express our resolve to keep going,” Bush said.

People make threatening calls, he said, because they cause fear.

The phone calls made to his home were personal threats; last year’s very public bomb was a threat to the community, Bush said.

“I think in order to move forward, we have to get in touch with the fear, and get beyond the fear. We may not avoid it always, but we keep going in order to move on.”

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