Hundreds march in Hillsboro to protest systemic violence
The system is working — but not for everyone, protesters against the current state of criminal justice say.
"I will tell you from experience that the problems that Latinos, Black folks, white folks have in Washington County are all the same," Carlos Covarrubias of the Washington County Justice Initiative (WCJI) said. "We all live in the same place, but we do not all get the same treatment from Washington County law enforcement and the Washington County District Attorney's Office."
That was the overriding theme amongst the more than 200 people in attendance for the March Against Systemic Violence Wednesday, June 17, beginning in front of the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro and ending at the foot of the Washington County Law Enforcement Center roughly two blocks away.
The march is fallout from a Washington County deputy's attack on a person being booked at the Washington County Jail.
Thrown against the wall by Deputy Rian Alden's running tackle, Albert Molina suffered multiple skull fractures while in custody for allegedly riding a bicycle while drunk. The incident took place in 2018, but Alden wasn't charged until June 5 of this year, and not until an email surfaced May 31 accusing Alden of using racial slurs while communicating online in December 2003.
A video released to the public June 10 — but made available to investigators in 2018, before Alden was cleared of wrongdoing — clearly shows Alden attacking Molina as other deputies look on. That footage that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for people desperate for change.
"We are members from the public defender's office that decided, because of the recent events that are going on, that doing our job wasn't enough," Kelsey Jones of the WCJI said. "We needed to come out and use our spare time and our resources to be able to gather people to get the message across: that we need to start funding social services a lot better, rather than just funding the criminal justice system."
That theme was consistent throughout the demonstration, and with each of the seven speakers who addressed the crowd in front of the courthouse: Imani Dorsey of Washington County Ignite, Mariana Valenzuela of Centro Cultural, Joel Iboa of the One Oregon Coalition, Carl McPherson of Metropolitan Public Defender, Seemab S. Hussaini of CAIR Oregon, the Rev. Jorge Rodriguez of the United Methodist Church in Hillsboro, and Esther Summerville, Molina's mother. All communicated frustration with not only law enforcement, but the Washington County District Attorney's Office as well.
"Our elected officials do not reflect the people in these communities," Dorsey said. "They've been deliberately and violently disenfranchised, and right now, they're telling the police, and they're telling our elected officials, that they do not make us safer."
"Here we are again, your children and grandchildren walking the streets of this nation to condemn violence, murder and the absence of humanity," Valenzuela said. "I wonder, how much longer will we have to walk the streets of our city chanting to demand justice and accountability from an unjust system?"
"We can not effectively address racial discrimination in our communities while the elected officials in charge of our justice system continue to protect violent law enforcement officers instead of holding them accountable for their actions," Iboa said.
"Our elected officials and authority figures have a duty to protect the public, and we need to demand that they continue to do so," McPherson said. "And it shouldn't take these types of rallies to get people to understand that change needs to occur."
An emotional Summerville spoke to many of those same systemic frustrations, but with anger and sadness over not only what occurred with her son but with others of color who could suffer — or have already suffered — similar and "unfair" fates.
"We trusted the police, and I respected the police," Summerville said. "But I don't know what the police are capable of anymore. Even before today, I wondered if I was going to be safe, because I don't know what to expect for anybody."
After all of the speakers communicated their message, the orators and the hundreds in attendance marched towards the Washington County Law Enforcement Center, stopping at the intersection of First and Washington streets to take a knee in honor of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer May 25. The protesters silently knelt for half of the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck, then laid face down, replicating Floyd's position upon his death for the remainder of the time.
After that, they marched the final block to the enforcement center, then rallied in front of the building in support of change for the final 15 minutes of the demonstration.
Covarrubias, who led the march, spoke about his love for all of the Washington County communities, and he spoke of his disdain for those who govern them. He blamed the District Attorney's Office for granting law enforcement agencies the latitude to commit violence against people of color, like Molina.
"I want the district attorneys to hold their own officers accountable," he said, "like they hold the rest of the community accountable."
Neil Byl, an appellate public defender, attended the rally in support for many of his past and present clients who have been the "victims of racial profiling and some of the injustices that are going on with police brutality." Despite the injustices of recent events, along with the turmoil which has ensued, Byl said he believes the country is at a turning point, and that there are better times ahead.
"The fact that you see the sustained amount of people out here, along with the engagement and public discourse that's happening because of these protests, I think it will make a difference," Byl said. "I think people realize that if they get out and vote, and get engaged with their communities, they can make that difference."
And what did fellow attorney Carl McPherson leave the crowd with? The following quote from American abolitionist Frederick Douglass: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
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