West Linn police have issued a criminal citation to a West Linn woman who sprayed her water bottle at a teenage driver following a verbal altercation at a Blue Lives Matter (a counterprotest to the Black Lives Matter movement) rally July 17.
The incident, which was captured on video and viewed thousands of times on social media, shows 18-year-old Gaby Juhala arguing with two women from the protest on the West A Street bridge over I-205, when one of the woman — identified on social media and by WLPD as Diane Gruber of West Linn — sprays her water bottle in Juhala's face.
Juhala, a recent West Linn High School grad, said she and three friends were driving to Safeway the afternoon of July 17 when they spotted the protesters on the West A Street bridge.
"All of my friends are very supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, so we rolled down our windows as we were driving by and shouted 'Black Lives Matter' out of the car," she said.
According to Juhala, that's when one of the women shown in the video flagged the teenagers down, intending to have a conversation.
"I'm a politically inclined person. I'm open to having a conversation with someone and chatting about the different beliefs that we have and seeing if we can find a middle ground or just hear each other out," Juhala said. "She came over and she seemed to be pretty open to having a conversation the way that she initially started having a conversation with us."
The woman reportedly asked Juhala and her friends if they had known about the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the death of George Floyd in May, to which the group responded that they've known about the movement for years and had even covered it in school.
Juhala said that's when she told the woman she was half-Latina and had her own experiences with oppression in the United States.
Juhala said the woman responded by telling her she's Italian, a remark Juhala said didn't make sense to her since Italians in America today don't face the same kind of discrimination as other marginalized groups.
At this point, Gruber joined the other woman, according to Juhala.
"I noticed when she approached, she was definitely more aggressive when she came up to the car. When she was talking, from the very beginning, it seemed like she wanted to create some kind of conflict," Juhala said. "That's when she started telling me that I didn't know what oppression was because you don't experience oppression in the United States like you do in other places."
Juhala said she told the women she had lived in South America, to which Gruber responded that she lived in Taiwan and did not face oppression.
The online video shows Juhala replying that Gruber didn't face oppression because she is white.
"I think when I said that she has white privilege, I think that really triggered her, and that's when she threw the water at me," Juhala said.
Shocked and angered, Juhala swore at Gruber while a man told the two women to disengage from the interaction.
At that point, Juhala drove off.
The group stopped up the road, at West Linn High School, where one of Juhala's friend's sprayed her face with disinfectant, cautious that Gruber had been drinking out of her water bottle and may have had COVID-19.
Juhala said she called her brother from the WLHS parking lot and he came to meet them.
Her brother, Xavier, called the police to report the incident.
She said officers arrived within two minutes. Though at one point there were three police cars and even more officers, Juhala said eventually she was just talking to the original responding officer again. After the group recounted the incident, police told them that they should be able to charge Gruber with harassment.
"He (the original responding officer) gave us a talk on his personal beliefs, aside from being a police officer, which I thought was very nice of him, because he doesn't have to do that as a police officer, but he talked about how he agrees that the system is broken and that there is racism within it and that he thinks changes do need to happen," Juhala said.
"He assured us that he would try his best to make sure that some kind of repercussions would happen because of her reckless behavior."
A little over a week later, the officer followed up with Juhala, informing her Gruber had been issued a criminal citation.
WLPD confirmed this citation and said she soon will have to appear in court for the misdemeanor.
Juhala said this incident wasn't her first encounter with racism in the seven years she's lived in West Linn.
She said the racism she's faced here isn't the violent racism that makes headlines, rather microaggressions that oftentimes white people don't see as racism.
"Especially in West Linn, being a more affluent community, I think the way people have grown up here sets them up in a bubble of privilege, even if they don't necessarily intend to be that way; it just kind of happens," she said.
Juhala said her mother has had more experience with the blatantly discriminatory encounters in West Linn.
"When she's walking our dog, people have told her to go back to where she came from, and just racist stuff that shouldn't have to happen to her in her own neighborhood," she said.
Overall, Juhala said it seems like people her own age are less inclined to that sort of thinking and behavior.
"I definitely think it's a generational thing. I think people now kind of understand that it (racism) exists," she said. "There's obviously a lot of conservative people in West Linn, but even with that group, just because they are younger and have been taught more in schools, there's more of an open conversation about it. I think people are more open to understanding and learning about what it is, and being more accepting."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.