Race-related violence in Charlottesville sparks signs in Forest Grove
Isabel Rodriguez, 9, dragged out an old sign she and her brother had made for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and headed down to Pacific Avenue with her mother to protest racism Monday afternoon.
They joined nearly 40 other people who wanted to express their concern and outrage about the white supremacists who rallied over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., where violence peaked when a man apparently known for his fascination with Nazis and Hitler drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many others.
"I'm trying to show that black lives do matter and some people don't see it," said Isabel. White people "should just treat black people like their brothers and sisters instead of enemies," she said.
The protesters sparked a torrent of friendly beeps from drivers passing by, including long, loud honks from a couple long-haul truckers. But not everyone was supportive, Isabel said.
"Some people put up their middle fingers," she said. "We just try to be nice to them even though they were mean to us."
Michael and Jacob Zook Friesen also waved signs ("Honk for Justice" and "Love Makes the World Go Around") at traffic on Pacific Avenue.
"We want to make Forest Grove a safe place," said Michael, 10, although he and his brother couldn't remember seeing any specific racist behavior in their hometown.
"We just want to reinforce that," said Jacob, 12.
Their mother, Brenda Zook Friesen, helped organize the rally in response to the Charlottesville turmoil.
Last November, Zook Friesen started a local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), "a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice," according to its website, which continues: "We know that to transform this country we must be part of building a powerful multiracial majority to challenge racism in all its forms."
The local SURJ group's closed Facebook page currently has 103 members.
Monday afternoon, Zook Friesen sent out a message on the local SURJ page, which got posted to other pages and by 4:30 p.m., several small groups of people had gathered along Pacific Avenue on the corners of College Way and Main Street.
Ian Besse said this was the first protest he'd participated in since a decade ago, when he was in graduate school at the University of Iowa and marched for workers' rights.
Aaron Greer, a Pacific University professor of anthropology, waved a "Black Lives Matter" sign to "show solidarity with people of color," he said. Greer said he's a member of the local SURJ chapter, where he got the sign. He said he understands some people feel the slogan is too narrow and that it has become somewhat controversial but he was firm on "standing in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters."
Victor Rodriguez, a Spanish professor at Pacific, also held a "Black Lives Matter" sign, saying he is disturbed by the violence and racism he's seen. "This is outrageous what is going on in this country," he said. "People need to respect life."
A car rounded the corner onto Pacific from Main Street just then and slowed near the protesters. A burly, dark-haired man leaned over from the driver's seat and called to the sign wavers through his open passenger-side window: "I see every one of you and I appreciate you!"