Portland, Oregon is widely accepted as a hippy, left-wing, liberal utopia. Where people of all skin color, religion, sex, gender identity are accepted — an oasis of peace, love, and happiness. I mean, after all, downtown Portland held a riot that got national attention in resistance to trump being elected as president. However, being a biracial, bisexual boy who went to school in downtown Portland, I can tell you it is not what it is all hyped up to be. Racism is very much an established system within Portland, and there a lot of racists across the city.
Let’s start with Portland’s racist history. As of 1846, Portland passed a law that said they could flog ANY black person who did not move out of the state by 1846. The following year, Portland revised the law to say that any black person would be offered up to slavery. Black people were not allowed to live in Portland, Oregon until 1926. Just four years earlier to that, Portland became a hub to 9,000 KKK members. Black people could not own businesses until the 1950s.
As on 2017, Portland, Oregon’s demographic is 87.7% white, making it the whitest metropolitan area within The United States. The U.S. is 76.9% white. This gives a very small space for people of color. Gentrification is something that has hit Portland like a truck. Martin Luther King St. used to be home to dozens of black owned businesses. It now hosts stores such as Starbucks, Safeway, Olive Garden, Breweries, Applebee’s — all chains and now white-owned businesses. Shortly into St. John’s area was definitely hit hard. What used to be a majority black populated area is now an early suburban neighborhood 25 year old white males walking their small dogs around with no shoes or socks on. Local Portland Emcee Mic Capes is a St.John’s native and has always had something to say about gentrification.
On May 26, 2017, a terrorist killed two men and injured a third on Portland’s public transportation train. The terrorist was Jeremy Joseph Christian, a 35-year-old white supremacist. He was verbally attacking and threatening two muslim girls on the train who were each wearing a Hijab. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, Ricky John Best, and Micah Fletcher intervened to protect the two girls being attacked. Jeremy slit the throats of Taliesin and Ricky killing them, as well as injuring Micah. Leaving the scene and being confronted by police, Jeremy threw his knife at the police hitting the top of their car, exercising his white privilege. Jeremy was arrested and in his court hearing, he yelled “Get out if you don’t like free speech!” Christian shouted, adding a short time later: “Death to the enemies of America!” and “You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism.” This gives a clear portrait of an environment that would enable this kind of behavior. It is not just the fact that he is a terrorist, it is the fact that the whiteness and racism of Portland enabled his confidence to perform this act of terror.
Quanice Hayes, surrounded by police officers after be stalked by one officer was crawling on his knees awaiting an order from the Portland Police Officer. While laying flat on his stomach with his arm stretched out, was shot to death by an AR-15 assault rifle by Portland Police Officer Andrew Hearst. In Hearst’s statement, he claims he was “sure that he had a weapon on him” although he never actually saw it. Hearst claims he shot 17-year-old Quanice Hayes who was face down arms extended was a threat to him, resulting in him getting shot. No criminal charges were placed against Officer Hearst. The lack of response from Portland was shocking. Mayor Ted Wheeler made one statement about the shooting and took no action against it.
Portland is a very racist city with a very racist past. That is why it is necessary for there to be groups such as the PDX resistance lead by Greg McKelvey. The teens of color are very engaged with making change within the Portland Area. Teenagers such as Dylan Palmer, Carrelle Namegabe, Ryan Joiner, Khiarica Rasheed, Mackie Mallison, Finnigan Hawley-Blue, are all teenagers active in combating racism as well as hundreds of other students active in fighting for the cause. Portland does have a strong community of people who want to create change, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be able to do so.