Five years ago a tangle of events, seemingly disconnected, topped off at the Everett Elks club. The Illegal Immigration Summit of 2007 was a lesser angels’ showcase of xenophobes, racists, and conspiracy theorists — outliers who, one convulsed soul after another, gave expression to Snohomish County’s dark corners.
Shawna Forde, an Everett City Council candidate at the time, warned the gathering about a rising tide of illegal aliens. As The Stranger’s Michael Hood reported, Forde told the crowd, “I’m through with people who don’t belong in my country and who tax my system.” Forde, who ran the local Minutemen American Defense, was through enough that she teamed with a Minuteman cohort, Jason “Gunny” Bush, and murdered an Arizona man and his 9-year old daughter, Brisenia Flores. Today both Bush and Forde sit on Arizona’s death row.
The history and series of events that culminated at the Elks Club — incidents and movements dating back decades — were kindling for community pushback. There was the 2004 cross burning at the Arlington home of an African-American pastor. There were reports of human trafficking, of anti-immigrant bullying, of hate crimes that went unprosecuted for lack of evidence. There was the patriot and militia movement, a local posse comitatus and the separatist campaign for a breakaway “Freedom County.” Decade after decade, the race baiting took different shapes. New names, new euphemisms for an old hate.
The 2007 immigration summit became the catalyst for a group of citizens, outraged by intolerance, to form the Snohomish County Citizens Committee for Human Rights. Its mission was to pass an ordinance to establish a county human rights commission. It succeeded (the commission was created in 2011) although the group’s mandate is simply to advise the council and county government. The commission is also charged with educating the public, but resources are limited.
So, on Constitution Day, four people and a reporter showed up at the commission’s workshop in Mill Creek to discuss human rights in Snohomish County. Why low attendance at such a well-publicized meet-up? Are human rights too abstract, too conflated with international relations and high-profile crimes? “I’m disappointed in my neighbors,” Commission Chair Meg Winch said. “We need to talk about problems before there’s an issue.”
Issues that morph into problems get magnified on the federal level. The U.S. Supreme Court will tackle a number of equality-related cases this term, questions that will settle and ripple through communities in Snohomish County and the American West. As the New York Times reported Sunday, the court will revisit the 1965 Voting Rights Act and examine same-sex marriage and affirmative-action admissions in higher education.
Snohomish County residents are beginning to tackle questions of race, equality, immigration, and human rights. We begin with an acknowledgment of past sins and a williness to rein in the lesser angels.