Spokane-area community leaders speak out against racism

By:  Jonathan Glover
Source: The Spokesman-Review

Prominent community leaders spoke out against racism Sunday during the Recreation Against Racism event in the large HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake.

Organized by HUB leaders and Phillip Tyler, president of NAACP Spokane, the hourslong learning and recreation event was put on to teach the community how to work and play together, and featured several speeches from elected officials, including a recording from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

“We know there are some bad actors who seek to give Spokane a bad name with racially motivated acts of hate,” she said in a prerecorded message that was played for the audience. “We’re not going to let them define us. That is not who we are.”

McMorris Rodgers was likely referring to past acts of racist graffiti that have littered people’s lawns or downtown parking signs or slurs spray-painted onto the side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center.

Tyler, who has spoken before about how those acts wouldn’t divide the community, organized the event as a response and as a way of bridging any divides that were created.

“We’re going to tell you today, ask you today, where is the love in Spokane?” he said in front of a crowd of a few dozen people. “It’s one love. One heartbeat.”

Also delivering a message was U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

“We know that in Spokane we are strengthened by diversity,” she said, also in a prerecorded video. “Let me be clear: Racism, bigotry and hate have no place in Spokane, in our state and in our nation.”

As he has in the past, Spokane Mayor David Condon also condemned racist acts in a speech. He was joined by Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins and Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson. The three spoke about the value of coming together.

“We really are part of a larger community and a community that represents all of us,” Condon said, before switching gears to talk about recreation. “And I also thought I was coming today just to play dodgeball with these two gentlemen right here at the 3rd Legislative District. Because nothing would please me better than to run across the court and slam into them. So, we’re on, right?”

After the speeches subsided, people took to the courts, either playing dodgeball, volleyball, pickleball, bubble ball or basketball. Though Condon was confident in challenging people to pickleball, he lost a match against Democratic state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, five to four.

While not partaking in the recreation, Kate Bitz, who volunteers for the county Democratic Party, took a moment to offer some skepticism about the speakers’ words and how she felt they’re sometimes hollow.

“When it comes to opposing racism, since the 1960s we’ve had a lot of rhetoric, and a lot of rehearsing that rhetoric,” she said. “The question is if we’ll all go home and retreat into our little bubble.”

Once recreation time was over, it was back to the assembly section in the open area of the sports center, where speeches resumed.

Caleb Dawson, student body president of Gonzaga University, had the last words of the afternoon. He used them to talk about the double standard black people face, especially when it comes to police and racial profiling.

“As much as it’s valuable that we can teach people how to avoid suffering from our modern-day experience of racism, that’s not OK,” he said. “We can’t just stop there. We can’t just stop teaching people how to survive with a system that’s broken.”