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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City leaders condemn arson of Pride crosswalk; prosecutor’s wife questions whether charges should be pursued

Spokane City Council member Zack Zappone, right, along with business owners and community leaders, gather at a press conference Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Chase Gallery in City Hall to condemn hate and address the recent vandalism of the Pride Crosswalk in downtown Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A second act of vandalism at the Pride Crosswalk in downtown Spokane prompted local leaders to voice their condemnation of hate in the city while trying to move quickly to explore possible solutions.

“Words without actions mean nothing,” Councilman Paul Dillon said after a press conference Friday about the incident.

Spokane police are investigating the fire as an arson, according to a news release. Video surveillance showed multiple people dumping a liquid on the street early Thursday morning atop the painting of the LGBTQ rainbow flag outside Riverfront Park and setting it on fire.

The last time the crosswalk was vandalized was October 2023. It was repainted in late April.

Police declined to release the video footage due to the integrity of the investigation, Spokane police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said.

Plans in place to stop crimes involving LGBTQ+ murals in the city are still evolving, Dillon said – he’s seen better responses and action taken through public safety committee meetings, and plans to bring the defacement of the mural up in the next few meetings “to come to an understanding about what is being done.”

More evaluation and discussion is important, Dillon said.

Last year, the Spokane City Council allocated nearly $30,000 for mobile security cameras intended for downtown areas.

The D3 Mobile Security Unit, produced by Utah-based LiveView Technologies, uses three 360-degree cameras with thermal and optic capabilities. The standalone units also are equipped with strobe and flood lights, a two-way speaker, cloud-based data storage and an attached solar panel to power it, among other features.

Councilman Zack Zappone said last year when approving the one-year lease of the mobile camera that its purpose was for the Spokane Police Department to utilize for reducing shootings and other crime.

After the press conference Friday, Zappone said that money hasn’t been spent by police at all.

“The intent was to have that camera for these types of safety concerns,” he said.

Humphreys said Friday that the money allocated for the mobile cameras wasn’t enough to cover the cost of one entirely, which is about $32,000, according to LiveView’s website. The remaining costs would have run about $2,000 to $3,000.

“We didn’t have that in our budget, where we would have to pull the rest of (the costs) from,” Humphreys said. She added that the camera also did not meet the department’s operational needs at the time or currently. There are already cameras in the downtown area not visible to the naked eye which police also utilize in incidents like this, she said.

The money still lies with the city, Humphreys said, because there is no mandated requirement to spend it until the department decides to purchase equipment. Once they do, that’s when the money is taken out, she said.

Zappone said he plans to follow up on the cameras and increased surveillance in the area.

“The idea is the camera is a deterrent,” he said.

Council President Betsy Wilkerson, who voted against the lease agreement for the mobile camera system last year, said during the press conference that the council will be working with public safety officials to “request more monitoring of that area.”

“I think if there are more cameras that can be put in for safety and then surrounding businesses (it can) help us do that,” Wilkerson said. “Accountability starts with everybody… But we have asked police to step up.”

The Odyssey Youth Movement, a LGBTQ+ hub in the city, was vandalized three times in less than a week last year. The LGBTQ+ painted crosswalks just outside the building were vandalized twice. The owner of Atomic Threads, a local clothing store which advocates for and holds events for the LGBTQ+ community, came to work one day to find the front window smashed in, and Dillon continually had his pride flag stolen off the porch of his home in the Perry District.

Spurred by that wave of vandalism, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, sponsored a law to ensure “destruction of public property motivated by bias” is covered under the state’s hate crimes statute. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill in March and it is set to take effect in June.

The fire set to the crosswalk occurred less than a month short of being classified as a possible hate crime but could still be prosecuted as arson or damage to property if there is sufficient evidence to move forward with charges.

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown posted on X Thursday that she denounces the behavior and looks “forward to those responsible being brought to justice.”

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell’s wife, Lesley Haskell, replied to Brown on X about the defacement of the crosswalk that Brown should instead listen “to the opposition instead of threatening prosecution.”

“Seems like you only care about one side. The people do not want this. Accept that,” Lesley Haskell wrote.

Dillon voiced concern regarding whether or not the crime would be fairly prosecuted under the hate crime statute if it happens once the law goes into effect. He called the statements made Thursday by the prosecutor’s wife an “embarrassment” for the city of Spokane.

“I seriously question the prosecution being able to be fair and balanced,” Dillon said. “It’s alarming and (the statements) emboldens acts like this.”

Zappone echoed the same thoughts, he said, which is why he’s been speaking to other local leaders Friday in preparation for the hate crime statute to go into effect next month.

Under Washington law, the governor can request that the attorney general ask a county prosecutor to take action in a criminal case. If the county prosecutor fails to do so, the attorney general’s office can prosecute the case.

“I would hope it doesn’t come to that,” Zappone said. “We would hope things would be prosecuted in a fair manner. But if not, there is no hesitation in asking the governor.”

Attempts to reach the Haskells were unsuccessful Friday.

Wilkerson said during the press conference no matter how many times the crosswalk is vandalized, the city isn’t going to give up.

“If we stop, it feels like we are afraid. … I look back at the Civil Rights Movement. If we stopped showing up, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she said.

If the sidewalk must be repainted again, it likely won’t have to be completely re-done, according to Shelby Allison, an asphalt art program manager. The last paint job was $14,000.

The money received for paintings like the pride crosswalk also comes from 6% of the Traffic Calming Fund, funded by red-light tickets – “not a huge chunk,” Allison said.

Allison attended Friday’s press conference with more than a dozen other local leaders and community members, all who voiced the same sentiment: “Hate has no place here.”

“It doesn’t belong here,” Zappone told the crowd. “We all belong.”