Wheeler, African-American leaders talk about racism and riots
African-American leaders in Portland expressed deep pain over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Milwaukie police on Sunday — but also mixed feelings over the increasing violence of the nationwide protests, including those in Portland.
Mayor Ted Wheeler also participated in the afternoon event at Self Enhancement Inc., which included six African-American speakers from community, business and faith organizations. They all said the protests growing around the world are a long-overdue response to hundreds of years of oppression of African-Americans. But some felt the recent acts of violence, vandalism and property damage are detracting from the larger cause of social justice.
Rukaiyah Adams, chief investment officer of the Meyer Memorial Trust and chair of Albina Vision, called the protests "an expressions of love" for Floyd and other African-Americans who have been killed by police. She praised young people for marching in the streets for justice.
Longtime local activist Ron Herndon also said the protests were a reckoning. But he said the riots and looting were counterproductive.
"From what I've seen on the news, it appears that most of the folks are white folks," Herndon, the Albina Head Start director, said about TV coverage of the weekend rioting and looting in downtown Portland. "If you think that's going to help black people, you are sadly mistaken."
Wheeler, who was the only white speaker, admitted Portland has a history of racism but promised he is committed to fully engaging with the African-American community and creating meaningful reforms.
"I won't always get it right, but I will always do my best and I will always stand with you," Wheeler said.
The event was opened and closed by SEI founder and CEO Tony Hopson Sr. He and other speakers faulted the government's COVID-19 response to minority communities, which have been disproportionately harmed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hopson and Wells announced that free COVID-19 testing will be offered at SEI and Emmanuel Church on Saturday, June 6, with more details to follow.
A crowd gathered outside SEI's offices at 3920 N. Kerby Ave. during the event. Libra Forde, the organization's chief operating officer, announced they could not enter because of social distancing requirements, but promised they were engaged in positive conversations about change.
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