Kevin Harpham, who has extensive ties to white supremacists, hoped to detonate a bomb at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. But his backpack was discovered, the parade was rerouted and the explosive failed. In December he was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The Spokane Police Department has beefed up security for this year’s march and hopes that Harpham’s actions haven’t scared people away. “The annual MLK Day march is an opportunity for citizens to speak out against hate,” the police announced in a news release. Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church, said members of St. David’s will be at the parade proudly waiving the church’s banner. “It’s not that he [Harpham] succeeded in turning people away or scaring people off,” she said. “What he did was reinforce the perception that the Inland Northwest is a haven for white supremacist groups…and that’s why it’s important people turn out for this event and be a part of the parade.” Wheatley-Billeter said she hopes people will take the parade as an opportunity to protest hate and show that Spokane’s equality-minded residents far outweigh the white supremacists. “People who have faith in humankind need to stand there, we need to stand together and say that we are united and that we will not allow this to define us, will not allow it to define our community and that we support and want great diversity in this area,” she said. King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Wheatley-Billeter said those words are relevant now more than ever and hopes the parade will be filled with Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims and people from other faith groups who will together celebrate King’s legacy. John Shuford, director of the Institute for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University said this year’s parade is an opportunity for the community to take a stand. “I see this as an occasion for justice-minded folks throughout the Inland Northwest to reclaim the day and push forward on the unfinished work of building a beloved community here and elsewhere,” he said. The parade will begin Monday at 10 a.m. at theINB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.