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Tragedy in Portland and the Work Ahead

Portland MAX station memorial. Photo by Jacob Simmons.

Photo: Portland MAX station memorial, photo courtesy of Jacob Simmons.

We at Social Justice Fund NW were horrified to learn of the deaths on Friday of two men and the injury of another after they tried to intervene against racist and Islamophobic attacks on two young women on a Portland TriMet train. Their attacker had a long history of white supremacist posts, including advocating for a whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest, defending Nazis and praising Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing.

Social Justice Fund NW, with our members, grantees and staff in Oregon and the region at large, are deeply impacted by this incident and are struggling with the ripples throughout our communities. This act of violence, of terror, toward those trying to come to the aid of their fellow humans, hits hard because we can all see ourselves in a similar position, on a similar train, trying to protect those being targeted.

But we also know that this act of violence does not exist in a vacuum. As Zahir Janmohamed, policy director for SJF grantee APANO so eloquently wrote in CNN, Portland is no stranger to racist violence. In fact, in the 10 days following the election of Donald Trump, Oregon experienced the highest number of harassment and intimidation incidents per capita in the country. Janmohamed writes, “[A]s a person of color, and especially as a Muslim American, I have never felt so lonely, so unsure of my safety, so eager to flee, as I have in Portland… The challenging thing is that many Oregonians shut down when talking about race, and sometimes I do not know what is more mind-numbing: learning of these incidents or dealing with the state's many white liberals who always shush me when I talk about race because they remind me that Oregon is not a ‘red state’ or that ‘things are worse elsewhere in America.’”

And it’s not just about Oregon. On Sunday night in Washington’s Grays Harbor County, two Quinault tribal members were run over by a white man in a truck reportedly shouting racial slurs and “war whoops” at the men. One of the men was killed and the other injured. Witnesses reported that the driver was intentionally targeting the tribal members after a dispute. In Seattle, hate crime reports against Blacks and LGBTQ folks doubled between 2014 and 2015 before Trump’s election and more recently we have seen the surge in swastikas appearing on buildings, cars, telephone poles in the Seattle area.

SJF grantees and members are well aware of the imperative to build our collective power and fight back against institutionalized racism, economic inequality, gender inequality, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant policies. SJF grantees APANO and Unite Oregon are just two of the many organizations leading the way in the Oregon and the Northwest toward a more just future for all people. SJF grantee organizations work year-round to create conditions that help prevent incidents like the one in Portland, through organizing those most affected to build movements that fight against bigotry and hate.

We hope these tragic acts of violence will inspire a renewed commitment to the principles of shared humanity and dignity for all people. 

Mijo Lee
Executive Director
Social Justice Fund NW

Photo courtesy of Jacob Simmons