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Graduates find creative way to spur support for Black Lives Matter movemement

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Jadyn Dewey and Sonja Bengston protested for police reform along with other West Linn students Thursday, June 11.West Linn students occupied the corner of 10th Street and Blankenship Road near the I-205 onramp for the 12th straight day Thursday, June 11, calling for police reform and condemning systemic racism.

The protestors seem determined to prove their endurance by keeping the pressure on the West Linn Police Department and local government until they see real change.

"Ideally, the result of this is not just that people come out with signs or express their support, but that the city and police department are reformed in fundamental ways," said Wallace Milner, a West Linn High School grad.

Milner said he, his sister Matilda and other leaders of the protest are discussing "how we can work to leverage the energy in the community into real, tangible reforms."

Sonja Bengston, a 17-year-old senior at WLHS, said she wants WLPD to show that they are not racially profiling community members.

Bengston and her classmate Jadyn Dewey said that they've been at the 10th Street protest every other day to get people in West Linn to think about their privilege and to show that they care about racial injustice.

Milner said some of the protest organizers are working with people who have had negative experiences with WLPD to come up with a list of proposals for the department. Though the list hasn't been finalized, he said so far they've focused on redistributing police funds toward social services and programs offered by other city departments or agencies.

"We don't believe that the police department here, or anywhere across the state, should be the primary tool for dealing with social issues," he said.

Milner explained the city shouldn't address crime by "slapping the bandage of policing on it," but solve the problems like poverty and intergenerational trauma at their roots.

For the fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the city of West Linn budgeted $17.4 million for the public safety fund, which includes police services and 911 dispatch.

Milner said some of these funds should be diverted from the police department to social services and programs.

The student protestors would also like WLPD to interact on a long-term basis with people who have had negative experiences with the department, rather than just one brief meeting, Milner said.

Finally, the protestors want the mayor and City Council to adhere to demands from the Oregon People of Color Caucus.

On Thursday, the Oregon Legislature's People of Color Caucus met with the Portland City Council to discuss police reforms they'd like to see regarding oversight, discipline and racial inequities.

The protests and demands for change in local government are not the only tools West Linn students have enacted to combat systemic racism and support black communities.

A group of recent WLHS grads are offering free help with college applications and essays to WLHS students who show a receipt of donation to the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to the Instagram account @wlhsessaysforblm, the grads will help with college research, filling out forms for FAFSA, Common App and Naviance, and drafting and editing admission or scholarship essays.

So far the group, comprised of about 23 former WLHS students, hasn't had too much work, but expects that as summer wears on and seniors start thinking more about college, things will pick up, according to Kamerin Villagomez, who helped organize the group.

Villagomez explained that anyone interested in acquiring the group's services can message @wlhsessaysforblm on Instagram, and then organizers will choose the member best suited to help based on what the person needs.

"Not only are we using our privilege as students who have been able to go through the college process and who have been educated in quite an affluent college preparatory school to help others who might need extra help or guidance, we're also helping black people in this country fight against racism at the same time," Villagomez said.


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