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.