People who attended a Saturday forum on civil rights at TRAC in Pasco said plenty when it came to issues facing minorities, particularly Latinos and blacks, in the Tri-Cities and Eastern Washington.
They pointed to high-profile local examples of those issues — from the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by Pasco police to the comments made by Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks disparaging the largely Latino communities of Pasco and Yakima, though Parks has said he referred only to those living in the country illegally.
“People who would draw that distinction don’t know the difference,” said Martha Rickey, a Granger immigration attorney with the Northwest Immigration Rights Project.
The event, which drew about 75 people, wasn’t about pointing fingers, but understanding what people’s positions were, said Gabriel Portugal, acting president for the Tri-Cities chapter of a national Latino American organization.
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Portugal and others said that it’s only when people understand where others in the community are coming from on civil rights issues, and are willing to take action, that progress can be made.
“To actually do anything and get anything accomplished, you have to get past the knee-jerk (reaction),” Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins told the Herald.
Portugal’s organization, the League of United Latin America Citizens, organized the forum. Portugal has said that he and others are looking to improve the lives of everyone in the Tri-Cities and wanted to bring about a conversation on three issues: voting rights, law enforcement relations and the educational gaps between minorities and whites.
Some speakers noted that progress is being made, particularly education. State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, talked about how the Legislature had frozen state university tuition in recent years, benefitting all families. Omar Manzo, a native of the Yakima Valley attending Central Washington University, said that a group he’s involved with, Scholars in Action, has worked to create a more inclusive environment at his college campus.
But Rickey talked about the intense pressures that still face undocumented residents in Eastern Washington, from exorbitant bonds placed on them when they are in custody to predatory business practices targeting Spanish-speaking people.
Dan Blasdel, Franklin County’s coroner, noted the pushback he’s received from law enforcement for his inquest into Zambrano-Montes’ death.
Even Manzo said progress is slow to come.
“I can probably name all the Latino faculty (at CWU) on one hand,” he said, contrasting that to the university’s much more diverse student population.
Portugal said the diversity of views given by the speakers was by design.
“I think it’s balanced; that’s what we want,” he said.
But most of the speakers spoke in unity on one thing: the importance of getting involved. Registering to vote if you are a citizen, working with others to promote new or changed laws, and understanding how government works are all critical to making any meaningful change.
Those who are vocal on social media about these issues appear less than willing to make their thoughts reality, Watkins told the Herald. But those listening and asking questions Saturday showed there are some wanting to take action.
“I see people interested in getting deeper,” he said.