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.

2 Responses to “Kevin Harpham and the MLK Parade Bomb: Why Hate Crimes Happen in the Inland Northwest”

  • Sorkin:

    Yeah, I never heard of the food truck being picketed, how did I miss that, I would have been out there every chance I could get.

  • It’s good thing hate crimes are not that rampant here in our area. It scares the hell out of me thinking of those people who participates in hate crimes.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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