Standing on the third-floor hallway of the Spokane County Courthouse Tuesday morning, Dara Bremer Gulley had a message for two men charged with a hate crime: “Black lives always matter.”
Her voice became louder with each word. “In this city, in this country, in this world. Spokane has to come out to take a stand. Any time a hate crime happens, we need to stand up and speak out.”
Before long, she found herself in the center of a semi-circle, other Black Lives Matter protesters and advocates flanking her on both sides. They were there to support Norris Cooley, a 66-year-old black man who on Oct. 8 was berated with racial slurs, punched in the head, had a gun pressed firmly against his nose, and whose house was shot with at least six bullets while he, his roommate, and her daughter hid inside.
The men accused of attacking Cooley pleaded not-guilty just minutes earlier in a nearby courtroom to several charges, including first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, and malicious harassment.. The alleged attackers are Jason Cooper, 32, who is described as a “skin head” by his girlfriend’s daughter and who has a tattoo of “white power” on his leg, and Donald Prichard, 36.
As Bremer Gulley became more vocal, she shared the story of how she used to remain silent. How, since moving to Spokane from the Yakima Valley in 2004, she said she has noticed the predominantly white population and it’s tepid response to overt acts of racism in the past.
How she feels shame. But at the same time, how empowered she feels now.
“I’m speaking to the people who don’t show up,” she said to the crowd and news cameras trained on her, a green “Black Lives Matter” bandana wrapped around her head. “I’m using my voice because I haven’t been using my voice.”
With each booming word, others in the group became more vocal.
“There we go,” chimed in Kurt Robinson, president of NAACP’s Spokane chapter. “It’s time to step out and do something meaningful and impactful.”
Robinson, who also spoke out against the incident on Oct. 11 during a news conference with other community leaders, was sitting on a nearby bench. Near him were two young black women holding signs saying “Black Lives 2K17 Matter.” Others had small green signs on their shirts or hats saying “Black Lives Matter” or “No Hate.”
“The reason it’s gotten this bad for us is because we have been silent,” he said. “It’s not enough to just sit there and complain about it. We have to do something about it.”
As he said at the news conference two weeks ago, Robinson was critical of the criminal justice system failing Cooley, the community and the two men, since both Prichard and Cooper have a long list of felony convictions, including two violent offenses for Prichard.
“It is time to start taking a look at what we are doing and how we are going to fix it,” he said.
George Taylor, the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Browne’s Addition, said he was still surprised to hear prosecutor’s haven’t charged the men with attempted murder, opting instead for the lesser charge of asault, since one bullet nearly missed Cooley’s roommate’s head.
“What I did not hear was the charge of attempted murder,” he said. “It needs to be added.”
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said over the phone Tuesday that the investigation is still ongoing, and that prosecutors have “put charges up there that we feel confidence the evidence supports.”
Bremer Gulley, who during the hearing had her arm raised and hand balled into a fist, kept it balled while speaking in the semi-circle.
“I am a white ally,” she said. “I am showing up. I am speaking out.”