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Gathering outside City Hall calls for peace, unity after Virginia violence

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 14, 2017, 10:19 p.m.

About 100 people gathered Monday evening outside Spokane City Hall to call for peace and unity in the aftermath of the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It was the second rally held at City Hall since the massive weekend gathering of white nationalists in Charlottesville, which devolved quickly into street brawls between the racist and far-right groups and “anti-fascist” counterprotesters. Three people died and others were injured in events related to the demonstrations.

Luke Grayson, who organized Monday’s rally, said he was dismayed that racism and other forms of hatred and bigotry are so prevalent in American society. He said minorities, including members of the LGBT community such as himself, increasingly feel unsafe when leaving their homes.

“It’s just ridiculous that we’re even having to have this fight,” he said.

Grayson and about a half-dozen other people spoke during the event, which lasted a little more than an hour and culminated with a march around River Park Square. Demonstrators chanted “Stand up, fight back” and “The people, united, will never be divided.” One waved a flag bearing the symbol of a socialist group. Another held a sign declaring “White supremacy is terrorism.”

About halfway through the event, which was billed on Facebook as a “Down With White Nationalists Protest,” a woman walked past the crowd shouting profane insults before getting into her car and driving away. Several of the demonstrators began to argue with her, while others responded: “We love you!”

John Lemus, the chairman of Spokane’s Human Rights Commission, who attended the rally, said that tense exchange didn’t surprise him.

“Spokane is going to continue to strive to be a compassionate community,” he said. “We’re a community where everyone is welcome. We want to use language that brings the community together.”

Taylor Weech also gave a speech. She’s an organizer with a local group called SURJ – Showing Up for Racial Justice – and urged people to confront bigotry rather than ignore it.

“You cannot just toss away the racist uncle and pretend he doesn’t exist,” Weech said. “You have access to that person” and can try to change his mind, she said.

A much larger rally outside City Hall drew several hundred people on Sunday afternoon. At both events, demonstrators noted an apparent increase in hate crimes and vandalism targeting minorities in Spokane since Donald Trump became president.

In addition to longtime activists, Monday’s rally drew people like 55-year-old Chris Whitney, who said he attended out of curiosity.

His take was simple: “I think everybody should be treated fairly no matter who they are or what they are.”


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