Welcome to the City of Roses, where white supremacy reigns.
Life hasn’t been the same since May 26th, 2020. When George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police went viral, solidarity for Black lives rose around the globe. Protests sparked in every major city, some continuing night after night, for nearly two years now.
But no one would’ve guessed Portland to be broadcast around the world. Maybe it was because no one could grasp why such a ‘progressive city’ had suddenly taken on a scene from a apocalyptic nightmare. I’d get worried calls from friends asking if I was okay, wrongly under the impression that Portland was under siege by angry protestors and FBI. I’d have to calm them and explain how luxury hotels and restaurants were open, streets had been blocked off for patio dining, and how what they’d been seeing on TV was really only a small portion of the city. There was one thing I’d wished the media would get right – that the perpetrators of this violence were not protestors, but law enforcement.
Portland does a great job marketing itself as a progressive and global city, but we know its history and present is anything but. The racist inception of Oregon as an all white state is the very reason Portland has such an ugly and violent landscape today. This origin story has led us to the state of Oregon today – a unique breeding ground of hate and white supremacy.
By June 1st, the indiscriminate use of tear gas/CS gas was already affecting Portlanders’ mental and physical well-being. For those joining protests for their first time, it was a cruel and sickening awakening to realize their civil liberties did not matter. To feel helpless while watching your neighbors, parents, children, doctors, teachers and lawyers, chased, targeted, beaten and dragged through the streets is traumatizing. Imagine seeing that every night, for 120 nights plus.
More seasoned activists will know that this extreme use of force is particularly inflicted on those showing up for Black Lives.
“You out with the ni**as, you get treated like a ni**a.”
For the world, attention only turned to Portland once federal troops were deployed under the guise of protecting federal property, but for those in the streets before, you knew their presence was nothing to be hyped or distracted by. Our city has long been familiar with outside agitators stalking our streets and brutalizing communities. For the Portland Police Bureau, many of whom live outside of Portland, having a few new friends to join the assault was a welcome arrival.
The emboldening of a fascist state right here in Portland only makes sense given its history. Our own police bureau has been in the midst of racial tensions many times; their relationship with local white supremacy groups is so stacked on the record that it’s hard to ignore. Oregon’s inception as an all-white state in 1844 is still seen through rose colored glasses today – it is, simply put, a white utopia. In the 1920s Portland Mayor George Baker was a known Klansmen, sworn in by Luther Powell who also founded Washington State’s KKK chapter. By 1923, the state of Oregon had registered nearly 35,000 Klansmen in the state.
In 1981, possums were dropped on my great grandparents’ soul food restaurant in Portland – a prank by local law enforcement. The result? A 30 day suspension that resulted in the entire Portland Police department staging a walk-out in protest. The officers were re-instated shortly after. In 1985, two Portland officers were reinstated by an arbitrator after murdering Lloyd Stevenson, a Black off duty security guard who had just stopped a robbery. Putting him into a chokehold, the two officers ended his life almost immediately. On the day of the funeral, they showed up to sell shirts with ‘Don’t Choke Em, Smoke Em’ emblazoned across the chest. Only then were they fired.
For the last several years, Portland Police have escorted far-right extremist groups, such as Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, American Guard, Three Percenters, into the city where they terrorize and threaten Black and Brown communities during their rallies. In 2019, Lt. Jeff Niiya of the Portland Police Bureau was exposed for exchanging several texts with leaders of far right extremist group Patriot Prayer, now available as a nearly 80 page public manuscript. Last summer, Portland Police officers were caught leaking false information about Joann Hardesty, Portlands’ first Black city Commissioner, calling her a hit-and-run suspect.
In 2022, Portland Police Bureau training manuals went viral for images celebrating violence against protestors. The main document that gained national attention was a ‘meme’ used to end a PowerPoint training session. Showing a police officer covered in riot gear, the officer was punching a protestor.
A short poem accompanied the image:
‘And the Lord said, woe be unto you, dirty hippie; for though stinketh of patchouli and B.O.; for thou talk of Marx, yet know him not; for thou hast bills, yet have not paid; for thou hast dreadlocks and white skin. And so I shall send among you, my humble servants with hat and with bat; that they may christen your heads with hickory, and anoint your faces with pepper spray. And once thou hast been cuffed and stuffed; once thou has been stitched and bandaged; perhaps thou shall learn, I’m tired of your shit. Amen.’
This city-sanctioned violence is not only disgusting and extremely disturbing, but it is no longer seen as a surprise to those who live here.
Most recently we’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes and threats in our neighborhoods coming from these emboldened racists. People take to the streets every day because they continue to see the inequities set against one another – every day. Portland may project a liberal facade, but it’s streets are still covered in blood from racial violence – and we refuse to forget.
Welcome to the city of Portland, where Black Lives were never meant to Matter at all.