Spokane portrays itself as a gem in the Pacific Northwest where families can grow in security and safety.  However, in 2018, there were more hate crimes in Spokane than in Des Moines (IA), Madison (WI), Portland (OR), and Tacoma (WA) combined, according to the FBI Hate Crimes Report. What these other cities have in common is an office dedicated to civil and human rights, promoting equity, and enforcing anti-discrimination laws. Their budgets range from $800,000 to $4.5 million with 6 to 20 full-time staff each. Meanwhile, the Spokane Human Rights Commission (SHRC)–a volunteer commission with an $8,000 budget–is tasked by Spokane Municipal Code with 17 duties, including to “serve as a complaint channel to which human rights grievances of all types can be reported.”

The Spokane City Council pushed for a single civil rights officer and set aside funding for it for the last three years. Outgoing Spokane Public Schools Board President Jerrall Haynes accepted the position in September, 2021. Haynes said that Cupid Alexander, former Director of Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services, was the first to recruit him for the position, and that since then City Council President Breean Beggs, Mayor Nadine Woodward, and Director of Communications and Marketing Brian Coddington all joined in that effort. “They came to me,” Haynes said about his recruiters still at the City. “When it’s time for support from each and every one of them, I expect support.”

Haynes’ Civil Rights Program Coordinator position includes vast responsibilities on top of processing all discrimination complaints. Just some of the other duties include being the subject matter expert on equity and inclusion for all City departments, making policy recommendations, developing and disseminating informational material, and developing and conducting outreach and training regarding discrimination and equity. Haynes understands that he cannot effectively perform all these duties alone. His ultimate goal is to create a “fully functional and impactful office of civil rights,” echoing a longtime demand of several community groups, including SCAR.

A fully staffed and funded civil rights office has also been the focus of the SHRC, which established the Office of Civil Rights Exploratory Task Force in December 2019. Though civil rights enforcement is a typical function of city government, the City of Spokane has not been researching, proposing, or promoting an office of civil rights. Instead, the Office of Civil Rights Exploratory Task Force– an underfunded group of volunteers– is doing this work for them without any promise that their efforts will be used.

Dr. Kristine Hoover, Director of the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies and a member of the Exploratory Task Force, submitted a research study to the SHRC in April 2021. In her research, she gathered data from different civil rights, equity, and human rights models from around the Pacific Northwest and from other similarly sized cities, including Portland (OR), Seattle (WA), Boise (ID), Des Moines (IA), Tacoma (WA), and Madison (WI). Nearly across the board, Dr. Hoover found that these cities had committed many resources to not only enforce civil and human rights, but to proactively reduce inequity and discrimination through initiatives and legislation that had positive effects in their surrounding counties.

Dr. Hoover noted the high number of hate crimes in Spokane with respect to many of these cities and argued that enforcement of less violent discrimination can impact the more violent: “The presence of hate incidents and discrimination decrease community confidence in safety and can escalate to greater dehumanization and violence.” She also noted the potential economic impact on a city that fails to attract and retain diverse talent due to its reputation for poor enforcement of civil rights and equity, a concern Ben Stuckart noted while campaigning for Mayor with an Office of Civil Rights as part of his platform. “We need to be a more inviting community. I’ve been called in the last seven and a half years when a large convention is coming to town and they’re having a problem. . . [One of them] brought me in right at the very end, and they said, ‘. . . [W]hat do you say to our membership who’s 25% African American, and you walk down the streets of downtown, and maybe one in 10, one in 20 people looks like them?’ We need to be more welcoming . . . and we need an Office of Civil Rights in the city of Spokane.”

The interested community groups have been recommending various steps toward the development of an office of civil rights. Dr. Hoover suggested that the City of Spokane should contract with a paid consultant to lead strategic planning and community engagement in order to develop a model for a fully functioning Office of Civil and Human Rights. In January 2021, prior to the release of Dr. Hoover’s report, The Exploratory Task Force proposed a meeting with City administration and beginning community outreach regarding an Office of Civil Rights. Greater Spokane Progress is in the process of proposing a vision, set of principles, and scope of role for a Spokane Office of Civil Rights, Equity and Inclusion.

Haynes, for his part, said he’s “not here to check a box,” and that, “when it’s time to start moving forward on those real tangible initiatives . . . we’re going to find out who else at the City is here to do the real work and who’s not.”

SCAR will continue updating the community on the progress toward a fully funded and staffed Office of Civil Rights, an essential justice reform from our Platform for Change.