PORT ANGELES — Devon Gray watched from outside Lions Park on Monday as about 75 people honored Martin Luther King Jr. and organizers spoke of the “injustice” of the city felling a sequoia and courts prohibiting Gray from going to the public park.
Gray, who has been charged with second-degree criminal trespass and obstructing a law enforcement officer for allegedly refusing to leave the park after it was closed and the tree was felled, said that watching through the park’s fence felt “like my rights are being violated.”
She stood outside the park holding a rose and a candle for the tree.
“There’s a link between the environment being enslaved right now and humans and we believe this tree had inalienable rights to life,” Gray said. “I believe that our environment has inalienable rights to life and we need to respect that.”
Several people spoke at the event, called “Infinite Hope,” reading quotes from King and speaking of injustice globally and locally.
Hope also was the name given to a 110-foot sequoia tree that stood in Lions Park until the city cut it down Jan. 3.
Save Our Sequioa, which hosted the event, includes park neighbors and other citizens who fought to save the tree.
“The park itself was the place of the injustice that was done to our community, both environmentally and to Devon Gray who was arrested … for protesting the tree’s removal,” said Tyson Minck, one of the organizers. “She’s a long-time peace activist in the community.”
Minck, who was handing out sequoia saplings and small cuts of the felled sequoia during the event, was collecting signatures on a petition he plans to present to the Port Angeles City Council.
He said the petition, for “justice for Devon Gray,” already had 50 signatures Monday.
Among the speakers was Port Angeles resident Shewa Dedeke, who quoted King as saying “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Dedeke did not speak about the tree, but said she was there to honor “one of the most iconic leaders of the civil rights movement.”
She said there is a need for people to continue raising their voices, and fighting against oppression and marginalization.
“We have to look at oppression through a lens of gender, race, class and environmental issues,” she said. “It’s so important when we think about our privileges and our issues to look through multiple lenses.”
She said King taught her “so much” and said she is grateful for the way he fought for people who look like her.
“Dr. King taught me not only to fight for people who look like me, but for all others who have been ‘othered’ and marginalized by society,” Dedeke, who is black, said.
Shawne Johnson, a teacher at Port Angeles High School, discussed the importance of giving students an opportunity to discuss difficult topics.
She said King spoke for years that barriers to realizing democracy come from a lack of intellectual discipline, something she strives to encourage at the high school.
“As a teacher … I’m pretty serious about the importance of cultivating intellectual discipline in students, but also in giving kids the opportunity to exercise that intellectual discipline,” she said. “We’re not really giving kids a lot of opportunities to engage the real world and engage real issues while they are still in school.”
She said she wanted to honor a group of students at the school that have been creating unease at the high school because they are expecting real dialogue about issues, a discussion that started as the group began to address bullying.
“A lot of the bullying we’re seeing is really an intolerance for different groups of people,” Johnson said. “It’s judgments against people you don’t know yet.”
That group recently hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly at the high school, she said.
“They had the gumption to pause at the possibility that the civil rights movement is not over,” Johnson said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.