The Bainbridge Island town of Winslow is clean, quiet, picturesque, with fine old buildings, upscale shops, a marina full of sailboats and a dearth of traffic lights that compels drivers to go slow, make eye contact at intersections and observe the right of way.
On Sunday, it was also the scene of a rally and march of upwards of 1,000 — and by some estimates hundreds more — island residents and supporters. They assembled in the parking lot of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church to protest incidents of bigotry and vandalism that have shaken the community, most recently the toppling of 69 headstones in the Port Blakely Cemetery two weeks ago.
Planned over a 10-day period, the rally was publicized via broadsides taped to storefront windows, prominent signs and a full-page ad in the Aug. 18 Bainbridge Island Review. The ad listed more than twenty-five sponsoring groups and agencies, from local ethnic, religious and human-rights organizations to city and county government offices.
Clarence Moriwaki, a representative of the island’s Japanese American community, introduced the speakers, who included members of the Filipino American, Jewish, and gay and lesbian communities as well as the North Kitsap/Bainbridge Interfaith Council. The Suquamish Ollala, formed after the vandalism of Chief Seattle’s grave not long ago, was another notable sponsor.
Bainbridge Island Mayor Dwight Sutton led off by reading a proclamation opposing acts of hate. He exhorted the island’s citizens “to pledge individual responsibility and action to take a stand against hate and to speak out against those who commit acts of hate against individuals or groups of our community,” which he declared one that “protects, honors and promotes human rights.”
Police Chief Bill Cooper recapped the series of alarming incidents that have occurred this year, including: graffiti found on a wall of a ferry terminal restroom referring to the assassination of African Americans; white-power and Nazi slogans found scrawled on Bainbridge High School grounds; the defacing of the Seabold United Methodist Church with graffiti referring to paganism and attacking Christianity; the painting of red swastikas at the entrance of the Port Blakely Cemetery on July 23 and, the next night, the vandalizing of two of the cemetery’s three Jewish headstones, also painted with swastikas; the spray painting of the words “white pride” on the driveway of the Filipino American Community Hall; and the vandalizing of sixty-nine gravestones at the Port Blakely Cemetery on Aug. 9.
Of the last incident, Cooper said, “We cannot classify that as a hate crime, since the individuals responsible just indiscriminately hit everybody down there. It was not a specific targeting of any minority population: They just hit everybody.”