'Black Lives' allies: Are you helping the cause? Or drowning it out?
This week, as we near the 90-day mark in the seemingly never-ending cycle of protest, panic, vandalism and violence that has gripped downtown Portland for months, we seek a path forward.
It's a path most everyone knew about 90 days ago but chose, then, to ignore. It's a path that requires bold, unified leadership from local, regional and statewide elected officials, and from the police rank-and-file and command staff. This newspaper has addressed — and will again — our concerns about the City Council, Portland Police command staff and the rank-and-file members of the Portland Police Bureau.
Today, we address the divide between those who believe that Black lives matter and the criminal element that has sucked so much of the oxygen away from people who are working to abolish systemic racism. Violent behavior in downtown Portland is savaging the city's reputation and undermining legitimate expressions of protest. Something must be done quickly to bring an end to these criminal acts and to begin repairing the damage our city has incurred.
E.D. Mondainé, president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, likely expressed it best in a July opinion column in the Washington Post: He wrote, "As the demonstrations continue every night in Portland, many people with their own agendas are co-opting, and distracting attention from, what should be our central concern: the Black Lives Matter movement. … 'Spectacle' is now the best way to describe Portland's protests. Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention … how do these actions stop police from killing black people? What are antifa and other leftist agitators achieving for the cause of black equality?"
We echo Mondainé's thoughts on this.
Part of the problem is this: Some of the so-called allies have helped create a cloak of invisibility for those who just want to burn stuff. The Black Lives Matters movement is ill-served by the arsonists and the looters — mostly white, mostly young, mostly trying to gain attention and get on YouTube. Those who believe that Black Lives Matter need to find a way to separate themselves from that criminal element, and particularly from the brutal violence that occurred Sunday, Aug. 16, when Adam Haner was beaten by a group of people leaving a downtown protest.
If we as a community want an important message about Black lives to be heard, it is incumbent on the righteously angry to find ways to shut down the person who scrawls "Kill All Cops" on the wall of the Schnitzer Auditorium; from the person who vandalizes the food cart of a hard-working immigrant, scraping to get by; from the person who nails shut the door of an occupied building and sets it on fire.
It requires true white allies — those who actually believe the message — to stand up to the looter and the arsonist, and to say "Enough. Get out."
To everyone who is truly angry but who isn't African American, we say this: Are you being true allies to the cause? Are you aiding the mission of Reimagine Oregon, the powerful new Black leadership alliance? Are you helping to support the message of our Black residents, or are you causing a smog of sound and thereby masking their message?
We know a lot of Oregonians are mad. We know why. These protests did not spawn magically from the brow of Zeus. The protests are the culmination of decades of systemic racism.
But do you protest to help change the system? Are you part of the solution?
We are reminded of a Portland rally in July, when a young Black woman with a megaphone attempted to speak to Mayor Ted Wheeler. She was drowned out by young, white guys — who appeared to be having a heck of a good time — screaming over her.
Those guys are not allies.
Protesters: It's time to dig deep, and to ask yourself: Am I part of the solution? Or am I the noise drowning out the voices of Black lives?
At the same time, local, state and regional leaders — elected and appointed — must speak clearly and in unison to say violence does nothing to advance the goal of racial equity. Many solid and effective policy ideas have come out of the Black-led Reimagine Oregon initiative. Those proposed policies and systemic changes deserve the same level of public awareness that's now being afforded to the couple hundred people who engage in nightly clashes with the police.
As Mondainé and other Black leaders have suggested, let's raise awareness about the good solutions and put an end to the dangerous distractions.
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