News » Citydesk

Idaho Advocates, Legislative Leaders Call For End to Violence

by


Seated in her wheelchair, Mel Leviton positioned herself in front of the replica Liberty Bell near the steps of the Idaho State Capitol on June 3 and told stories about being mocked—even threatened—for needing to use an accessible parking space. It's moments like those that make her want to take a stand against the prejudice she sees all too often.

"Courage takes action in spite of fear," Leviton told the crowd of about 100 people.

- Kim Monnier (left) and Betty van Gheluwe (right) attended the rally at the Idaho Statehouse. "We have too much violence, and we need to come together to stop that," Gheluwe said. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Kim Monnier (left) and Betty van Gheluwe (right) attended the rally at the Idaho Statehouse. "We have too much violence, and we need to come together to stop that," Gheluwe said.
Leviton is executive director of the Idaho State Independent Living Council, an organization that advocates for Idahoans with disabilities. She was one of several stakeholders, advocates and lawmakers who spoke at This Too is Idaho—a rally addressing the need for social and institutional changes in Idaho amid a rash of hateful acts, some of which captured national media attention.

In March, three Dietrich High School students were charged as adults, accused in an incident investigators said included racial discrimination, assault and battery—culminating in the brutal sexual assault with a coat hanger of an African-American student.

In April, four men were accused of luring 49-year-old Steven Nelson—a Boise State University employee and openly gay advocate for equality—to Lake Lowell where they severely beat him and left him for dead. After giving law enforcement a description of his assailants, Nelson died en route to a local hospital.


"Our society primes and encourages us to take power over others. ... And we reject that. We can do better and we must do better," said Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelly Miller, who helped organize the event.

Speaking about events in Dietrich, Jeff Matsushita, also of the coalition, said the students accused in the crime needed to be held responsible for their actions, but "those young men acted the way we taught them."

- Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelly Miller (left) helped organize the rally. "Our society primes and encourages us to take power over others. ... And we reject that," she said. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelly Miller (left) helped organize the rally. "Our society primes and encourages us to take power over others. ... And we reject that," she said.
He's hopeful, however, that coaches will take responsibility for teaching student athletes how to be competitive on the field without using shame or derogatory language to motivate.

"'Love' is something I'm hearing in the locker room more than I used to," he said.

Several speakers at the event agreed it is time for ordinary people to shine a light on prejudice and stand up for marginalized people. Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) said her position as a lawmaker gives her a responsibility to stand up for people with less privilege and to be accessible to all her constituents. Boise Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb told the crowd, "Now is the time to shatter the collusion of silence. We must disturb the peace."

Buckner-Webb was herself a victim of a crime perpetrated against her family because of their race, when, as a child, a cross was burned on her lawn. She hopes "there would be a lot" of change between then and today, "but it's not a one-off," she said.

One of the differences, however, is attitudes are changing about reporting crimes committed based on a person's identity. Members of vulnerable communities are often the targets of crimes, and from the point of view of some people in power—like law enforcement—"they're not believed, and they're re-victimized," Buckner-Webb said.