Prosecutors ruled out hate-crime charges for lack of evidence, but news of the robe fueled talks across the Eastside on racially charged harassment.

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Leona Coakley-Spring no longer feels comfortable in the Redmond store she owns. The 66-year-old black woman from the Bahamas is selling the shop after a white customer left a bag there containing a Ku Klux Klan robe earlier this year.

“People want to act like there’s no racism. It’s here. It’s everywhere,” she said while sitting on a couch in the colorful store, From Rags to Riches. “For me, it’s like, where do I turn?”

King County prosecutors determined last month there was insufficient evidence to show that the bag was an intentional threat against Coakley-Spring, a finding that followed a series of rallies and other events to discuss racism on the Eastside. The incident raised awareness of tensions that many feel, community members say, and topics that otherwise don’t get discussed.

“For whatever reason, race and equality isn’t a conversation that happens on the Eastside,” said Mariama Suwaneh, a spokeswoman for the Eastside Race and Leadership Coalition. “Whether … the robe was placed there or not, there is still a larger conversation to be had on racial equality.”

A former full-time hairdresser, Coakley-Spring was in the back of the shop doing a longtime client’s hair on Jan. 20 when her son, Shane Coakley, 43, told her about a man who wanted to consign dresses he brought hanging in garment bags. She gave him a check for the items, and he left. She then realized one of the dresses had a plastic bag attached to its hanger. In the bag, they found the KKK robe with patches, a rope and a hood.

“My heart started racing. It’s something you’d never thought would be a reality, especially in Washington state,” Shane Coakley said. The robe had a conehead and two holes for eyes.

Soon after news of the robe spread, lines of people with flowers and cards formed outside the shop, which functions in part as a charity for an AIDS shelter in the Bahamas. The community continued to rally around the family, sharing personal stories of both blatant and subtle forms of racism, Coakley-Spring said.

“It really showed how a lot of people really feel,” Shane Coakley said. “The blacks are afraid.”

Advocate for arts, charity

Since moving to Redmond nearly two decades ago, Coakley-Spring has gained a wide social network due to her work and advocacy, specifically in the arts and in charity. She spent her early adult life in Chicago, where she immigrated to pursue a career as a gospel singer and actress, fleeing poverty in the Bahamas while pregnant and with two children.

She has hosted local concerts and events to benefit the All Saints AIDS Shelter in Nassau, Bahamas, as well as sold original paintings for the cause.

In November, she opened the consignment shop at 16648 Redmond Way, in part to help the effort; 25 percent of the store’s proceeds go to the shelter. About a decade before, she had owned and used the space as the Bahama Mama Hair Salon.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” Coakley-Spring said of the impending sale. “I’ve done so much, and I feel like all of it is gone.”

Robe still unexplained

To investigate the robe incident, Redmond police reviewed evidence and conducted interviews, on suspicion that the customer intended to leave the KKK items as malicious harassment. Such an explicit hate crime is relatively rare for the department, police spokeswoman Becky Range said.

Coakley-Spring’s check helped investigators track down the 25-year-old suspect. He had gone to the store at the request of his father, who told police he had recently cleaned a friend’s home in Tacoma and needed to dispose of some items, according to police. It’s unclear who the robe belonged to.

“They honestly told the detectives they had no idea that that was in the bag,” Range said. “I think it’s unfortunate for the community to be so affected by it. It’s a really unfortunate incident. I mean, there’s no denying that if you see a garment like that, it could be very threatening.”

Coakley-Spring burned the robe Tuesday afternoon at a small gathering at her neighbor’s home in Redmond.

Hundreds of people from Sammamish to Bellevue gathered for demonstrations after the incident, making pledges to fight harder against racism in their communities. They added commitment statements to a traveling art display that made its way around the Eastside.

At one gathering, Bellevue Mayor John Stokes said to a crowd on Feb. 10 that he commended Coakley-Spring’s courage, and that people need to mobilize and always speak up when they witness racial intolerance.

“Bellevue’s diversity is our strength,” he said, adding that nearly 40 percent of the population identifies as nonwhite or persons of color.

“We need to have mutual respect,” Stokes said.