Civil-rights lawyer Dees brings message to Snohomish County
Snohomish County had one of the civil-rights movement's heaviest hitters at its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this year. The visit followed a spate of race-related incidents...
Times Snohomish County Bureau
EVERETT — Snohomish County had one of the civil-rights movement's heaviest hitters at its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this year. The visit followed a spate of race-related incidents in 2004 that included cross-burnings in Arlington and Edmonds, a racial epithet painted on a car in Everett and alleged harassment at Monroe High School.
Local groups called on Morris Dees, a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center who has fought for decades against racial discrimination and bigotry, to take part in the event.
"This is more to provide a message of hope, of vigilance, to both the elected leaders — the community leaders — but also the citizens, that we forever have to be vigilant in combating hatred and racism," Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said yesterday.
Christine Gregoire also spoke on her first full day as governor. She acknowledged a partial standing ovation and asked the question, "Will we meet the challenge that Martin Luther King had on that very special day when he talked in Washington, D.C., a vision where every child across our great state and our great nation will be treated the same? As I think about that vision, I have to say to you I think we have work to do."
The national holiday honoring King is Monday. His widow, Coretta Scott King, has called Dees "one of the most dedicated and effective civil-rights lawyers in U.S. history."
Bill Keenan would agree. He listened carefully yesterday morning as Dees spoke in Everett. Keenan's family became part of civil-rights history when Dees spearheaded a lawsuit against the late Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler on their behalf. Butler's followers had assaulted and shot at Keenan's son Jason and Keenan's ex-wife Victoria Wallace in July 1999.
The resulting judgment against Butler was the largest civil award in Idaho history, a $6.3 million penalty that ultimately ended the white supremacist's operation. Butler's 20-acre compound near Hayden Lake, Idaho, was repossessed, donated to a university group and now is a peace park.
Yesterday, Dees appeared at a community breakfast of 125 leaders and student essay winners in Everett, then at Arlington High School to a school assembly of 1,800. In attendance there was Pastor Jason Martin, whose home was the target of a cross-burning last year.
In the afternoon, after a march in downtown Everett, Dees spoke to about 800 people at the Everett Conference Center.
He recalled a civil suit he filed many years ago on behalf of a group of Vietnamese shrimp fishermen terrorized by the Klan in Galveston, Texas. He persuaded them to let him take their case by using an example. He told them about a figure unfamiliar to some of these new Americans: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"His people had their rights deprived in the worse sort of way," he said. "They were treated as second-class citizens; their churches were bombed; their people were murdered and shot and lynched when they tried to exercise their rights. But they had faith in our judicial system and they stuck it out. And had they not had the court decisions they did, then they might not have gained their rights as soon as they did gain them.
"We have a great opportunity to make this nation live up to its promises of equality by being a part of that great battle over whose America this is," Dees concluded. "And that involves a lot of fear; and that involves prejudice and hate crimes. People fear that somebody is going to get something that they feel entitled to."
Eric Lucas, the county's newest Superior Court judge, said, "It's important and wonderful to have someone like Morris Dees, who's been on the front lines of the battle for civil rights for so long. Somebody said he's used the legal system as a sword, and that's an important aspect of the battle — to use the power of the system to bring order in the community."
Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.