Spokane students demand gun reform; plus, Spokane wrestles with dwindling water resources, and Airway Heights seeks City Council applicants

click to enlarge Lewis and Clark students held a 21-minute moment of silence. - NATE SANFORD PHOTO
Nate Sanford photo
Lewis and Clark students held a 21-minute moment of silence.

On Thursday, May 26, close to 100 students from Lewis and Clark High School walked out of class to call for gun reform and stand in solidarity with the victims of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

The kids weren't alone. Students in Tacoma, Seattle, Detroit, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities across the country staged similar walkouts organized by Students Demand Action, a national organization focused on ending gun violence. The walkout at Lewis and Clark was organized by Gee Kelly, a senior who is a member of Students Demand Action.

As a high schooler in America, the possibility of a shooting weighs heavy on Kelly's mind — he even set up a shortcut for it on his phone. Press the power button four times in quick succession, and Kelly's phone will send a pre-written text to his family letting them know there's a shooter and that he loves them.

Standing in the courtyard behind their school, the students chanted:

"Thoughts and prayers are not enough."

"Don't stay silent, end gun violence."

"Problems don't solve themselves."

A few parents stood outside the school fence watching the crowd. One parent said she came both to support her kids, and because she was worried about what might happen if someone attacked the walkout. One day before the shooting in Texas, authorities were called to Sunset Elementary in Airway Heights after a student brought a gun to school in his backpack.

Lewis and Clark senior Tevita Fakasiieiki was one of the speakers at the walkout. When Fakasiieiki was a freshman in 2019, an 18-year-old Lewis and Clark student threatened on social media to shoot up the school. It didn't happen, but the whole school was on high alert; two years earlier, a 15-year-old boy brought a rifle and handgun to Freeman High School, just southeast of Spokane, and killed one classmate and seriously injured three others.

"We were all super shaken and scared by it," says Lewis and Clark senior Will Merritt, who spoke at the walkout and is also the school's Associated Student Body president.

The fear isn't always front and center, Fakasiieiki says, but it's always lurking in the background. During weeks like this, it's hard to ignore.

"It's very confusing," Fakasiieiki says, "because sometimes I'm terrified and sometimes I'm not."

Fakasiieiki had a specific call to action for his classmates. Addressing the crowd, he asked that they contact U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and tell them to support H.R. 1446 (the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021) and H.R. 8 (the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021). The bills have been passed by the House but have yet to be voted on by the Senate. Fakasiieiki asked his schoolmates to contact Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers too, even though he doesn't think the NRA-backed Republican will listen.

After listening to speeches, the Lewis and Clark students — born after Columbine, and similar in age to the survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting — held a 21-minute moment of silence for the 19 students and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Merritt says he hopes the student action will demonstrate to leaders that things need to change. The students didn't walk out because they wanted to, he says, they did it because they needed to.

"We're not just going to sit by and let this happen," Merritt says. (NATE SANFORD)

LAWN TIME COMING

Spokane loves our water. We use over 200 gallons of water per person per day on average — and that number is a lot higher during the summer months.

"We are blessed to have a lot of water. I think that we sometimes forget what a valuable resource that is," says City Council member Karen Stratton. "We have this great resource that we need to protect and make sure we're using it wisely."

At the end of a nearly three-hour meeting on May 23, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance, 6-2, that they hope will turn off the tap.

Under the new ordinance, from June through October, Spokane residents will be banned from watering their lawns more than four days a week or between 10 am and 6 pm.

And starting in summer 2023, whenever the flow of the Spokane River is particularly low residents will be permitted to water no more than two hours a day and will be banned from using water to wash sidewalks, porches and patios. Scofflaws will be educated and given a chance to mend their ways before being punished, the ordinance says. And it will be almost two years before the measure starts being enforced, through yet-to-be-authorized fines.

"We have this great resource that we need to protect and make sure we're using it wisely."

tweet this

Enforcing those fines is a major concern of many of the ordinance's critics, who worry that a complaint-based enforcement system will inflame tensions between neighbors. Mayor Nadine Woodward wrote to the council that while she supported water conservation, the measure would likely backfire.

"Penalizing water usage and turning neighbors against each other will do more harm than good," Woodward wrote.

Compared to confirming the presence of a junk vehicle or an overgrown yard, proving that a resident watered his lawn more than four days a week is tougher.

"We don't enforce real crimes today," argued Councilman Michael Cathcart, who opposed the ordinance along with Councilman Jonathan Bingle. "We're not going to enforce this."

Cathcart had proposed an alternative proposal that would try to incentivize cutting back on water, instead of penalizing people for watering during the wrong times of the year.

Stratton, however, thinks that a lot of neighbors will be more than willing to complain about the water wasters next door. During the drought last year, she says, they would even tattle on the city.

"I just drove by Audubon Park," Stratton recalls one resident complaining to her in a phone call last year. "It's 108 degrees, and your sprinklers are on." (DANIEL WALTERS)

SEEKING SERVICE

With two members leaving before the end of their terms, the seven-member Airway Heights City Council is seeking applicants to fill the vacancies.

The two at-large seats are being vacated by City Council members James "Sonny" Weathers, who will remain in his seat until his replacement is selected, and Art Bubb, whose resignation was effective May 9.

City Manager Albert Tripp says both are leaving the council because they are moving out of the area.

"Both have a long-standing tenure of service back to the community," Tripp says.

To qualify for the council positions, applicants need to have lived in Airway Heights for at least one year before Nov. 23, 2021, be a registered voter in Airway Heights and be at least 18 years old. Applications are due by 5 pm June 14.

After interviewing the candidates during council meetings in early July, the remaining members of the council will select who will fill the positions during the July 18 meeting. The two selected will be sworn in at the July 25 meeting.

Those appointed will serve until the general election in November 2023, at which point the seat will go to whoever is elected. The appointees can opt to run for the seat like other candidates during that election if they want to remain on council.

Application instructions, including a list of questions about applicants' interest in joining the council and their thoughts on the role of local government, can be found at forms.office.com/r/GE0FmAD0C1. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL) ♦

The Rum Rebellion: Prohibition in North Idaho @ Museum of North Idaho

Through Oct. 29, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • or