Posts Tagged ‘hate crime’

Kevin Harpham and the MLK Parade Bomb: Why Hate Crimes Happen in the Inland Northwest

Why do we have so many hate crimes in the Inland Northwest?  It is not an accident of geography or some poison in our drinking water.  Partnersagainsthate.org explains the cause of hate crimes succinctly: “Hate crimes often occur as a result of prejudice and ignorance. A lack of understanding about differences among people and their traditions contributes to fear and intolerance. Left unaddressed, these sentiments may often lead to acts of intimidation and ultimately hate-motivated violence.”  This website isn’t discussing the Inland Northwest in particular, but the description certainly fits our area, doesn’t it?

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White supremacist holding a KKK flag picket a Mexican food truck.

I thought of this recently when Stevens County resident Kevin Harpham was arrested and charged with planting the bomb at last month’s Martin Luther King day parade.  While the people of the Inland Northwest don’t march around with swastika armbands or white hoods, we certainly don’t speak out against racism much either.  Case in point, remember the white supremacists picketing the Mexican food truck on and off all last winter?  There should have been a zillion people out there conducting a counter-protest or at least buying some food out of solidarity.  This didn’t happen despite the keen efforts of several people.  Likewise, look at the shabby treatment of Haitham Joudeh two years ago. His truck was spray-painted by thugs, and county commissioners Rick Currie, Todd Tondee, and Richard Piazza pretty much caved in to a racist crowd who wanted to ruin Joudeh and run him out of town. I wrote  then of the failure of decent people to stand behind Mr. Joudeh.  A year ago, I blogged about community leaders creating an environment for hate crimes when they foster an attitude 1) that is suspicious of outsiders, 2) that applies different standards to newcomers, and 3) when they do not sufficiently condemn the bigoted statements of their constituents. About two years ago the local NAACP president warned Spokane’s leaders that more needed to be done by leaders to fight institutional racism or “Spokane and Coeur d’Alene one day will become a mecca for those who would use ropes to make nooses and spread hate literature.”  We should consider her words now.

It seems like part of the problem is the lackluster police response to hate crimes.  A Post Falls woman complained that when people spray painted swastikas on her car, the police asked her if she even wanted to “press charges”.   See story.  In the case of Kevin Harpham, the matter is being handled by federal prosecutors.  It seems like the feds are always interested in these sort of white supremacist types.  Once, when I was a prosecuting attorney in state court, I was actively pushing the federal prosecutors to take over a felon-firearm case I had.  I didn’t have any luck in getting the feds to take it until we found a membership card in the suspect’s wallet to a white supremacist group.  Well, as you can guess, the federal prosecutors became more interested when they learned of the suspect’s membership in hate groups.

I sometimes read about different hate crime prosecutions in the blog Crime and Consequences.  That blog reported yesterday that a federal judge imposed a 6-month sentence for an instance of burning a cross in a persons yard when no physical injury resulted.  Most law blogs are written by criminal defense attorneys, but Crime and Consequences is by lawyers writing from the public’s perspective as a whole.  Another law blog worth checking out (that is not from the defense perspective) is D.A. Confidential, by a Texas prosecutor.

More Swastikas in North Idaho: This Time on the Vehicle of Brittany Edelblute

Idaho has had a new rash of hate crimes in the last year.  Last Friday, Brittany Edelblute’s Subaru was spray painted with swastikas.   In an article in the Spokesman-Review this morning, it was explained that Brittany Edelblute was apparently targeted because she has friends who are African-American that come by her house.  She has had a problem with people shouting racial slurs while they drive by.   A photo of her damaged vehicle is online here.  I blogged about a similar incident last month against Haitham Joudeh here and here.   In the news coverage last month in the Coeur D’Alene Press, the comment section was full of hateful comments.   The whole story was later taken down.  This time, the Coeur D’Alene Press did not post a story online about the crime against Brittany Edelblute.   Last month, a majority of the people making comments online accused Haitham Joudeh of vandalizing his own car just to get sympathy.

Why does this stuff always happen in North Idaho?  I don’t think it is just happenstance. It seems that the people in power over there inadvertently foster such behavior by their own actions.  Look at the shabby way Kootenai County Commissioners Rick Currie, Todd Tondee and Richard Piazza treated Haitham Joudeh.  Haitham Joudeh, an Idaho native of middle-eastern descent, sought a building permit.  The local Planning Department did not object to the project.  In addition, after a lengthy public hearing where all sides were held, the Hearing Examiner Rebecca A. Zanetti recommended that the permit be approved.  But neighbors put together an anti-Joudeh rally against the applicant, and the county commissioners bowed to pressure and rejected the permit.   Haitham Joudeh complained that during the rally and the public hearing, many negative comments were made about his religion and ancestry.   Commissioner Rick Currie is a member of the Mica Grange, the group that allegedly held the anti-Joudeh rally.   Currie boasts of his membership to this group on his re-election website.

I have done a fair amount of land-use law in my practice, and it sure seems strange that the county commissioners would not approve a permit when the experts did not see a problem with it.  And if the commissioners are affiliated with groups opposing the permit, they have a duty to step down and appoint a neutral decision maker.

I hope that journalists start to look at this problem in North Idaho as a whole.  A business owner who faces discrimination in the permitting process is not as quick and easy to write about as spray-painted swastikas, but the story deserves attention.   When county commissioners and civic groups foster an attitude 1) that is suspicious of outsiders, 2) that applies different standards to newcomers, and 3) when they do not sufficiently condemn the bigoted statements of their constituents, they inadvertently create an atmosphere that allows the incidents of street vandalism to flourish.

What do you think?  Why do you think these incidents of vandalism and swastikas have occurred?  Brittany Edelblute expressed frustration that the police officer asked her if she wanted to “press charges” over the incident.  Why do you think the officer asked that?   What are the advantages of remaining silent?  Last month the comments to the articles online often attacked Haitham Joudeh.   Will the newspapers better enforce their guidelines for posting comments?

What do you suppose the Coeur D’Alene Chamber of Commerce thinks of all this?  Does Coeur D’Alene want to be known as a first-class vacation destination or a backwater struggling with frequent hate-crimes.   The article in the Spokesman-Review quotes an official who seemed to think that the solution is in law-enforcement?  Is this correct?   Take a look at an interesting article explaining the position of the NAACP leader V. Anne Smith on the issue of hate crimes in Spokane.  (See article).   How would this advice go over in Coeur D’Alene?

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Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer who works in eastern Washington, including Spokane, Grant, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, and Okanogan, and Whitman counties. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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