History, Hate and Heros
May 29 at 4:46 PM
I can’t say that what happen in Portland, Oregon on Friday May 26, 2017 is a shock to me– as heroic and tragic as it was– and for me that’s sad.
I was born in Portland Oregon in 1968. I have lived here most of my life, and grew up in Albany as one of only a few Jewish people, in a predominately white Christian community.
But I did not see racism and saw very little anti-Semitism in Albany. I’m not sure if that’s because there just wasn’t anyone to be racist against or due to some other factor. Although we did have the Confederate flag as our mascot “The South Albany Rebels”, it was only in the 2000’s, when our school began competing against athletes of color on a regular basis did anyone begin to recognize what that image meant or stood for. The flag has since been taken down, thanks in part to my former wrestling coach, Brent Bevel, who is now principal of the school.
South Albany Rebels Marching Band Circa 1980’s
My life has been full of witnessing anti-Semitism and hatred.
When I first arrived at Western Oregon University, playing football during a spring game I witnessed some of the players refer to the referees as Jews, yelling at them: “Hey ref, stop Jewing us” and, “You Jew”. Our coach put an end to it when I spoke up.
A few years later, a guy pulled my Star of David necklace off my neck in a bar. My team mates who were there joined in, for what turned out to be an all-out brawl. We won; I got my necklace back.
There was my time at the Oregon police academy then (BPSST) when my instructors made a Jewish joke and followed it up with even more inappropriate anti-Semitic comments. That ended in an investigation of the Academy by the governor and sweeping changes. http://www.jweekly.com/1997/02/21/probe-of-anti-semitism-widens-at-police-academy-in-oregon/
In the late 80’s early 90’s when Portland was a breeding ground of hate and racism, I would visit it from time to time and remember once seeing a skinhead walking downtown.
I yelled at him, and challenged him to a fight–I was much younger then–but he ignored me. I remember saying “I’m right here, you coward”.
Soon after that period in my life, I realized that violence and fighting wasn’t the answer, and that it would never change anyone’s mind about the issue of hate and racism. I realized that even though I was a good fighter, one day my luck would run out, and it was impossible for me to beat up every racist.
It was a terrible, ugly time back then in Oregon, and especially in Portland, as illustrated in “A Hundred Little Hitlers”. At one point, the Southern Poverty Law Center put out a list of the “Top Ten that Terrify” and two of them were from Portland, Oregon. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2006/profiles-10-racist-skinheads.
The 1988 murder of Mulageta Seraw and the hate that filled our city, was a terrible time filled with White Supremacists who were proud of their hateful beliefs. They were not afraid to show it through intimidation or even murder.
In 2004, when I was driving down the street, a group of white men in the car behind me were honking and waving trying to get my attention , so I slowed down thinking they may know me, or like my license plate “STELRS”, only to realize the four white men were skinheads. When they were right next to me, they threw up the “Heil Hitler” salute . It was only then that I remembered my stickers in the rear window. They were trying to intimidate me.
Probably the scariest and closet I ever came to White Supremacists was detailed in this piece I wrote about, when I sat down and spoke to one of those men on that list of “Top Ten that Terrify”. http://www.thenohatezone.com/sitting-with-the-enemy/
All of these experiences over my lifetime, and many others, have formed who I am and have inspired the work I do with “The No Hate Zone”. They have also helped me to realize and understand that what happened on the max that night could happen again in this city or state, but it doesn’t have to.
I’m deeply saddened by what happened to the men who stood up and spoke up for those children– and that’s what they are– children. I think each of us would like to believe that given the choice between staying silent and defending a child, well, we are all in for that child.
Most people can’t imagine the kind of evil that lives in the mind of individuals like the terrorist who killed two heroes on the max that night and nearly killed another. But from this point on we all know what we are dealing with now. And we have to carry the memory of those heroes and what they gave to this community with us everyday, and revisit it whenever we see discrimination in our community.
The days of being silent of are gone. Portland has changed forever. We have to decide what we want the future to be, a breeding ground for the white supremacist movement, or ground zero for Unity, Acceptance, Compassion, Tolerance, and an example of what resistance looks like.
We have to be committed day in and day out to fighting this kind of evil.
What now? Where do we go from here?
I don’t want anyone to think that I have the crystal ball to answer that question, but I will share with you what I am doing.
I believe that in order for us to “End Hate and Racism” we have to:
1) Advocate for each other. That means working with our city, county, state and hopefully, federal governments. Most importantly, that means working with these groups: http://www.thenohatezone.com/related-organizations/ to brainstorm around and implement policy’s, laws, practices, and so much more, that directly impact marginalized community members. We need to empower them and us to change the culture of our city in a way that not only allows for but supports and works toward people of color being decision makers in this community. City council has seen two people of color as commissioners in their 130-plus year history, and our Bureaus now only have two people of color as Directors. This has got to change. No matter how much you and I– or other white people– want to change this culture, it won’t happen until those directly affected by it play a roll in that change. We have to be willing and able to step back and follow, to give others the power to lead and embrace it.
2) We have to engage with our community and I’m not talking about “Outreach”, I’m talking about community engagement. We have to get to know our community members, and especially the communities of color, before it’s to late– and we push them completely out of this city– and we lose their history and their allegiance. We can’t put up a lawn sign about diversity when none of our neighbors are people of color. Instead of putting up lawn signs, reach out and engage with people, go to their churches and places of worship. The Muslim Educational Trust is a wonderful and welcoming place. Support black and brown-owned businesses. Volunteer, volunteer, and volunteer in communities and with organizations outside of your comfort level. Challenge yourself to see where you can support doctors, lawyers, chefs, and pastors who are people of color. This city is full of a deep, beautiful history of culture and diversity that many Portlanders have no idea about. Embrace it.
3) Educate yourself. I know the ugly and beautiful history of my city Portland, Or. I know the stories of red lining and of Jews buying homes for black community members when they couldn’t buy for themselves. I know about Vanport, about sundown laws, about the history of our Japanese and Chinese communities, and their contributions. I know about the long history of the Jewish community. If you know the history and educate yourself, before tearing down churches to build apartments, or doing so many other privileged things we have done in this city, perhaps we would build a city that is more inclusive and welcoming of others, a city that values the history and contribution of those who have been here for generations.
We will have to make drastic changes to the way we do business and live our lives. We have to get out of our comfort zone and educate our minds and search our souls about the needs of ALL Portlanders.
I’m not shocked that that evil man existed in this beautiful City of Roses, because I have seen them before, and I’m sure most communities of color aren’t shocked either. We have to do something about it. We have to create a city that makes people like him uncomfortable; makes him feel like an outcast and unwelcomed; a city that has ZERO TOLERANCE for hate and racism; a city where people filled with hate know that if you come for one of us you come for all of us, and that we stand together.
We aren’t there yet, but God willing we will be one day. Perhaps we will look back on that night as the moment this city acknowledged its institutional and systematic racism, that not only allowed for this ugliness to exist in this city, but for him and others to feel like they belong here– because they don’t– and they never will.
We can’t ever go back, Portland. We owe it to the men who died for, and believed in, a city free of hatred and racism. Let their sacrifice inspire and motivate us to be a city and destination for all people, and not a breeding ground for hate.
Rest in Peace, Love, and Honor: Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Rick Best. Prayers for peace to the two children, and a speedy recover for Micah Fletcher. Each of you showed us the best of what Portland has to offer.