Along with cities from around the country, Portland erupted on November 25th in one of the largest demonstrations and actions it has seen in years. The Portland Solidarity Network came on as an official sponsor of the event that was planned in solidarity with the Mike Brown actions happening both in Ferguson and in cities across the country.
After the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this last August, Officer Darren Wilson was cleared by a grand jury on November 24th. The jury was directed to determine whether or not there was probable cause to level formal charges against Wilson, which could range from first-degree murder down to involuntary manslaughter. The jury determined that no charges were to be filed, in a decision that many were saying was coerced by a mishandling by the District Attorney’s office.
In Portland, the Albina Ministerial Alliance and the Urban League put the solidarity action together. In front of the Justice Center, they called together over two thousand people to a rally that targeted the racist police violence that has become commonplace both in our city, and the U.S. broadly. The people present overwhelmed the area, taking Third Street over as well as the park on the other side. Speakers ranged from local organizations and churches, each putting out a call to create a movement that has the force to confront the kind of mammoth power of institutional racism and white supremacy. After an emotional round of Eyes on the Prize was sung, a speaker from the AMA came up and boiled the issues down to their essence.
“The blood of Michael Brown cries out for justice today. Across this nation, and across the world. Once again, the African American community, communities of color, mental health communities, the poor, the marginalized, citizens who love justice and democracy, those who have been crushed by the decision of the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. Once again we rise at the criminal justice system of America, and law enforcement is tainted with racial bias when it comes to rendering justice and fairness for black people. For communities of color. For the disenfranchised and the marginalized. We know from our own experience here in the city of Portland, that the brokenness of the criminal justice system and law enforcement. We know from Kendra James. We know from James Chasse. We know from Aaron Campbell. We know from Keaton Otis, that there is no justice and fairness when it comes to white police officers killing black and brown and poor people and mentally ill people.”
“What must we do about it? We must not go back to our old routines, and just talk about it. No, no, a thousand times! We must fight to change this broken, unjust and unfair system. We must use these times of injustice to build a movement!”
An action like this shows both the passion and desire that is necessary for mass movements, and the ability to think in a more radical context to directly confront the kind of racial animosity that has tarnished our local and national institutions. Though we are incredibly happy to see the actions play out as they have, we also want to see this turn into long-term organizing that will be able to continue to target this systemic inequality. The kind of racism that was implicit and led to both the shooting of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson, and the several police murders in the Portland area, is just as prevalent in people’s workplaces and housing situations. Redlining, Section 8 and rental discrimination, unequal foreclosure rates, and inaccess to public housing all mark institutionalized housing oppression against people of color in our communities. We are committing to work with tenants across the city to use community solidarity to force concessions and change in people’s neighborhoods and housing complexes. These racial issues are not just at play in loud points of cruel violence, but also the subtle evictions that we see in apartment complexes across all cities and the kind of gentrification that turns previously communities of color into trendy shopping centers for upper-class whites. Let’s take the anger and determination that we saw on November 25th and continue to challenge these institutions, and hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to spotlight the racism that is central to the unequal access to housing in this city and country.