Portland, White Supremacy, and Roosting Chickens
The racist harassment against a young Muslim woman & her friend and subsequent stabbing attack on their defenders on Friday feels like a case of chickens coming home to roost.
Portland was founded on stolen indigenous land, designed as a white utopia. Even more than the rest of the US, this place was calibrated to harass, exclude, and oppress people of color, immigrants, refugees. In fact, I’m typing this outside the gates in Laurelhurst, designed to physically keep the neighborhood white and rich (and unsurprisingly, today it’s one of our whitest and richest residential areas). We have always been a hotbed for racism because Portland was conceived by white supremacists to exemplify white supremacy, both in policy and in population.
Our police, descendants of slave patrols and convict-lease enforcers, routinely and systematically profile, harass, and murder Black and brown bodies. Like all police, they protect white people and our property at the expense of others — noted by a Black gentleman in the City’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over excessive use of force: “they police Black folks and protect white folks.” Since the late 19th century, our police and city government have been intimately tied up with the KKK and its ilk. Today, the head of the Drugs & Vice Division is literal Nazi Mark Kruger. Our current mayor, elected on a promise of police reform, turns his armed uniformed thugs out in force against antifa and other protesters; white liberals continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. That it needs to be said that these are related facts is telling.
Just last year, a Black teen, Larnell Bruce, was murdered by white supremacists; three weeks ago another Black youth, Terrell Johnson, was murdered by police during a mental health crisis; he joins the list of names also containing Keaton Otis, Kendra James, Jose Mejia Poot, Lloyd Stevenson, Quanice Hayes, and hundreds of others. These are not isolated, but part of the same pattern as Friday’s attack on a Muslim woman (and her friend, who is Black). And yet I personally know folks who have 1) never said Larnell or Terrell’s names, 2) condemn antifa and broken windows at every turn, and 3) urgently shared the GoFundMe entries for those stabbed on Friday, centering white heroes.* I hold that this is a position of white supremacy and it’s the uniquely white privilege of being able to see these as isolated incidents, not part and parcel of what this city has been since the beginning.
Many Portlanders adopt a free speech absolutism in response, but allowing Nazis a platform has allowed them to organize. It’s what made space for the murderers of Mulugeta Seraw, beaten to death by racist skinheads on SE Pine St. in 1988 for the crime of being an Ethiopian immigrant. It’s what created the space for the white supremacist movement that radicalized Friday’s killer. The reality is, providing Nazis a platform leads directly to their killing folks. That is why I sincerely hope antifa is able to no-platform the June 4th "free speech" rally in Chapman Square.
The narrative of Portland is that it’s a warm, tolerant, progressive place; that’s never been true, and has always been the spin of well-paid communications consultants. This city is a bastion of white racism by design, and as facile and radical as it seems, the solution isn’t giving Nazis a space to organize, it’s to break their heads while we break down the white supremacist power structures that let them flourish. It means a lot less day to day peace and tranquility for white folks. But our comfort has always been built on the backs of POC and working-class suffering.
*These folks were absolutely heroes and I don’t want to imply that donating to them is wrong or misguided; Micah, who survived, is the friend of many of my friends, is uninsured, and could use our donations. I’m simply arguing that there’s a disparity in attention paid