May 28, 2017

It does happen here

Hundreds gathered at a vigil at the Hollywood Transit Center on the evening after the Portland stabbings. Here, one young man comforts another during a moment of silence. Photo credit: Beth Nakamura/Oregonian Publishing Co.

The crimes that took place on a MAX train Friday afternoon in Portland have consumed me and my Meyer colleagues this Memorial Day weekend.

Friday afternoon, on a crowded MAX train in Portland, a white man screamed racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic slurs at two teen girls, one identified as African-American, the other identified as Muslim and wearing a headscarf. When riders intervened to protect the young women, three Good Samaritans were stabbed in the neck, two of them fatally. When the train stopped at the Hollywood Transit Center in Northeast Portland, the suspect ran, and other passengers followed and pointed him out to police, who arrested him nearby.

Authorities have identified the men who died as 53-year-old Ricky John Best of Happy Valley and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche of Southeast Portland. The surviving victim, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher of Southeast Portland, remained hospitalized Sunday. The three men are rightly being hailed as heroes. So is the passenger who tried to save the wounded man and the passengers who chased the suspect

The attacker — whose name I won't mention because he does not deserve the attention — has been identified as a white supremacist with a criminal record of robbery and kidnapping. Photos and interviews from a rally in April show the man brandishing an American flag, making Nazi salutes and hurling assorted insults at counterprotesters. He has been charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and felony possession of a restricted weapon.

The stabbings, which happened on the first night of Ramadan, made international news. But here's what strikes me: Most of the initial attention has focused rightfully on the terrible violence that happened Friday and the heroes who stepped up to protect strangers. But I find myself returning again and again to the words that prompted heroic intervention.

In our time, the cultural and institutional racism that underpins our country and our Oregon — which was founded as a “no-blacks-allowed” state — is more and more often laid bare. Individual acts of racist, white nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Native and anti–LGBTQ hate speech, threats, terror and violence are also rampant. The Southern Poverty Law Center collected more than 1,300 reported bias incidents in the three months following the 2016 election. That’s an astonishing volume of pain. (You can report acts of hate here.)

I'd wager that those two teens targeted Friday have endured such vocalized hate before, young as they are, and in a town idealized as Portlandia. That's something that should trouble us deeply.

Our Muslim-American, African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Latinx, Jewish, LGBTQ and immigrant communities stand on the front lines of hate and bigotry in this country. They pay the ultimate price for just daring to be, contributing to the social fabric of this country.

All of us have it in us to be heroes. We can be brave in the face of bias and bigotry. We can and must make our voices heard to drown out the insidiousness of hate speech.

My heart breaks for the families of the men who stood up to hate and paid a terrible price, and also for the families of the teenagers. Those young women may well feel traumatized for the rest of their lives. I've said it before and it bears repeating again this Memorial Day weekend: The commitment of Meyer's staff and trustees to work with and support nonprofits working for equity in Oregon, and to voice our opposition to the hatred, bigotry and bias that underlies the #PortlandStabbings, is unwavering.

We are not alone in our determination. Groups and individuals have stepped up to care for the survivors and the families of the murdered men. More than 15,000 have donated to show they support heroism over hate.

Meyer grantee Muslim Educational Trust, and Celebrate Mercy, a national organization aimed at teaching about the life of the Prophet Muhammad through programs and social campaigns, launched Muslims Unite for Portland Heroes on Saturday. As of noon Sunday, the campaign had raised more than $250,000 in 24 hours.

A GofundMe page on behalf of the slain men, coordinated by Portland restaurant owner Nick Zukin, had raised more than $300,000 by noon Sunday. And another GoFundMe campaign, earmarked for the hospitalized victim, had raised $95,000 by noon Sunday.

There is deep-seated hatred among us, but we are better than the worst among us. We are also compassionate neighbors. And that’s what keeps me in the fray.

Doug

 

Editor's note: An additional YouCaring account was set up Sunday to raise money for the families of the 16- and 17-year-old girls who were verbally harassed by the suspect. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fund had raised $33,000 to help the teens and their families with safe transportation, mental health services and more.