The Time is Now

Story by Pete Shaw. Photos by Benji Bảo Vương.

Over the past few weeks, Portlanders have been given a tutorial in how white supremacy works, as well as the privileges whiteness confers upon white people and how that whiteness ravages the lives of people and communities of color. These lessons have long been learned by people and communities of color. What remains questionable is what white people have learned–particularly those who regard Portland as a liberal paradise where white supremacy is an aberration and not the historical bedrock that buttresses and informs the present–and how much they are willing to support people and communities of color to oppose white supremacy, on both the individual and systemic levels.

On April 29 white supremacists held a rally in the Montavilla neighborhood. The organizer and attendees tried to call it something else such as a rally for free speech or a rally for Trump or anything else that could distract from the truth that it was a rally of, by, and for white supremacists. As they marched up Southeast 82nd Avenue, they were given a police escort, and when the march was over police showed them to a clutch of TriMet buses offering free rides to these white supremacists back to the park where they had originally gathered.

That congenial police presence was in marked contrast to that seen at the May Day rally and march. A few hours prior to the May Day rally, a large swathe of police were already milling about Shemanski Park, many of them militarized in full riot gear. There was no glad-handing as with the white supremacist rally two days earlier, and in the end, the police terrorized the vast majority of the marchers because a few people did some property damage and threw a few cans of Pepsi at some police. Among those the police terrorized on May Day were the very people of color whom white supremacists, just like those who rallied in Montavilla only two days earlier, have called for hurting, jailing, deporting, and murdering. The police, who seemingly got on cordially with the white supremacists in the Montavilla march, were antagonistic at the May Day rally and march. And TriMet did not offer any free rides.

Serve and protect.

On May 10, 24-year-old Terrell Johnson, a Black man who was reportedly threatening people on a MAX station platform, was murdered by TriMet police. Officers responded to the complaint, and when Johnson fled, they chased after him and shot him dead. The murder was justified because Johnson allegedly pulled out a box cutter, although he apparently never wielded the blade while on the light rail platform.

Serve and protect.

On Friday, May 26, white supremacist terrorist Jeremy Joseph Christian boarded a MAX light rail train and unleashed a racist, anti-Muslim tirade against two teenage Black women who Christian believed were Muslim. Three people confronted Christian. He pulled out a knife and murdered two of them, Rick John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. Christian also stabbed a third man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who survived.

Jeremy Joseph Christian was at that white supremacist rally in Montavilla, shouting racist epithets and giving Nazi salutes while draped in a United States flag. Aside from having his knapsack checked and his baseball bat confiscated, Christian, like the other white supremacists, was coddled by police. He received similar treatment after verbally abusing those two teenage women of color and stabbing the three people who intervened. When the police caught up with him, they did not murder Christian, but rather, let him rant and rave while he waved his knife and drank some swill. They were not afraid of him. They were not upset enough to shoot him when he did not obey orders. They did not fear his knife which only moments before he used to slit Best’s, Namkai-Meche’s, and Fletcher’s throats. They let him finish his drink before they arrested him.

The night before his attacks and murders, Christian was aboard a Blue Line MAX train threatening and intimidating other TriMet passengers, but he suffered no consequences for this. He was not even kicked off the train.

Serve and protect, indeed.

Please do not pretend that if Christian was Black he would be alive today.  His life, unlike Black ones, matters.

And please do not pretend that Christian is a one-off, a lone wolf, or whatever other term you might be inclined to use to deny that he is part of a white supremacist movement that has always existed and has always been served and protected in the United States. This includes our very own Oregon, which was founded as a white utopia, a legacy that reverberates to this day even as many white liberal sorts do their best to ignore this reality. At this moment white supremacists feel even more emboldened than usual to terrorize people of color, as well as anyone else who does not fit into their view of a United States that should only be composed of white, straight Christians who largely regard women as broodmares for the state.

Christian, the hateful venom he spewed at those young women, and the murders he committed are not aberrations. Since the election of Republican Donald Trump, there has been an uptick of white supremacists engaging in intimidation, violence, and murder against all people they find beneath them. They have become more comfortable expressing their various hatreds in public, and more alarmingly, acting out those enmities with violence.

This Sunday, June 4, will see white supremacists gathering at Terry Schrunk Plaza, spewing their hateful, racist, and bigoted rhetoric, trying to recruit more people to their cause. There will also be a counter-rally, and it would be a good thing to show up and stand against the white supremacists’ hatred.

Far better would be to show up for the counter-rally and then join up with a group that is organizing and mobilizing against white supremacy. Quite a few such groups–many led by people and communities of color–will be there. If you are white, listen to them. Talk with them. Ask them what they need you to do. Take your cues from them. Recognize that they know best what it means to be vulnerable to and victimized by the violence of white supremacy, both by individuals such as Christian and the systemic forms including police that allow white supremacy to exist and flourish. Respect their Wisdom. Support them.

White supremacy will not simply go away because you attend a rally. Only organizing with people fighting white supremacy at its institutional roots will do that.

We must destroy white supremacy, and we must destroy it now.

 

Special thanks to Junko Suzuki, M. Change, and Benji Bảo Vương for their help with this article.

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  4 comments for “The Time is Now

  1. Peter Parks
    June 1, 2017 at 9:33 AM

    Thank you Pete for your thoughtful and challenging article.

    Peter Parks

  2. Bette Lee
    June 1, 2017 at 1:11 PM

    Pete, I’ve always admired your writing, and this is one of your best. Your thoughtful analysis of the recent events, comparing the different responses by the po-pos to the white supremacists and the May Day activists was clearly laid out and profound. Only closed, bigoted minds could argue with the case you laid out. Your use of “serve and protect” was brilliant. Above all, I appreciate how heartfelt it is; I can feel your compassion and agony for the victims of white supremacy. We can only hope that more people will respond to your call to end this deadly killer, white supremacy. Bette Lee
    Show less

  3. Dan Shea
    June 3, 2017 at 5:08 PM

    Pete,

    You always come through with insightful commentary, well written. Yet, I know many in our community that know and understand this, that have and do speak up in defense of those targeted by rascist rants.

    I know because when Christian White Supremacist verbally attacked and harassed Mexican parishioners of St Peters Catholic Church in the Lents District, 600 + ad hoc of community defenders came to the call to defend the parishioners at the next Sunday Mass.

    These racists are small in number but they reflect the years of police violence and profiling of people of color, the instutional racism that is a product of politics not the will of the majority.

    Why now this rise in Jim Crow Violence? Maybe because we have become comfortable with violence. Those born near the date of 9/11/2001 and there after have lived under the shadow of endless wars, it is all they know.

    Wars branded as a fight against terrorism, those brown skin Middle East Jihadists out to kill the infidels. A holy war between good and evil.

    It is this shit that breeds fear and hate and because of it, wars. Violence is the solution our Presidents have taken regardless of which both political parties are guilty of.

    This fear, hate and violence plays right into the hands of Fascists and the Ruling Elites who wish to keep us divided, distracted from their austerity agendas to steal from your wages, savings and safety nets to pad their own bank accounts.

    It is a war that has come home, the enemy is not the other but resides among us, terrorism within, the White Supremacists, the KKK, the NeoNazis, the Xenophobes, all who have been enabled by the highest office in our government, the office of the president.

    So what are we going to do about it?

    First: Don’t be silent
    Second: Don’t let fear limit your response.
    Third: Join a group fighting for Human Rights
    Four: Join & Support Don’t Shoot Portland/Black Lives Matter
    Five: If you are a Veteran join Veterans For Peace

    Peace at Home, Peace Abroad

  4. Bob Goldman
    June 11, 2017 at 12:44 PM

    Peter,

    Thank you for continuing this discussion. Yes, it is time to end racism. It has been present for centuries and I am still trying to understand it. I think one needs to understand the history of racism, why it came to be, and why it persists. Since the 1970s, the problems in our country have gotten worse. Socioeconomic inequality has been a big driver of this and as African Americans have less wealth, less family wealth, etc, this group has seen more of the consequences of rising inequality than whites. One of the big drivers of socioeconomic inequality is that we now have a corporate takeover of our Federal Government, all three branches. The stories of inequality, white privilege and racism are intertwined.

    The bipartisan “neoliberal” policies (that is, privilege bases on merit which reinforces inequality, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization of public goods, elimination or reduction of social programs, social welfare programs designed to have people just survive but not get ahead, etc) under both major political parties have created the conditions where we saw the improbable rise of two candidates whose only similarity was their Populism. Recall, Trump ran as an outsider and as someone who called out D.C. corruption and told us he was going to drain the swamp and bring back jobs. This is an appealing message, though, most on “the left” recognized it as textbook right wing populism, which has the characteristic of then saddling up to power once in office, just as Trump has been doing, and thus betraying this part of his promises. Sanders, in contrast, was filling auditoriums and advocating “leftist populism.” As is common in the Democratic Party, this threatened business and big donors. Sanders was pushed out (just watch Oliver Stone’s Untold History and see what happened to Wallace).

    We must stand up against all forms of injustice and intolerance. I see the rise of racism and hate against immigrants more as politicians pouring gasoline on these themes that reverberate through history, taking advantage of the population under increasing stress. Unfortunately those who buy into these attacks feel victimized and as the victim react with emotion and feel in the right. It is hard to break through this way of thinking.

    As an aside, Paul Cienfuegos wrote something interesting about the right demonstration in Strunk Plaza. It was his observation that white supremacist talk and symbols were not ok with those in attendance. I was not there, so, I do not know. Paul spoke about the concerns raised by this group, some were quite valid. The other thing he said, which I think was important, is that there was so much misunderstanding of the groups. The right had no understanding of the counter protestors and thought they were all Communists. The left also seemed quick to vilify the right. I prefer to try to listen to everyone and everyone’s concerns. However, intolerance, racism, misogyny, etc, is not ok, no matter who is promoting these intolerant values is never ok and must be opposed.

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