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No Tenemos Miedo: Report Back on the Vigil Against Hate Crime

In Oregon city this evening, the community came together in solidarity with two Latino men who were attacked by racist, white teenagers at Wagon Wheel park on May 24th, and to demonstrate against a culture of racism and intolerance that has been growing and festering in this country.
I saw representatives from Jobs with Justice, the Rural Organizing Project, PFLAG, Veterans for Peace, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, among others. I suck at estimating crowd size, so I won't even make the attempt, but there were a lot of people there. Across the street from the gathering, a huge banner hung from the bell tower atop the Unitarian church that read, "Hate Free Zone." And one after another, people came up to the mic to denounce the attacks and to reaffirm that, in the words of one woman, "This is not the kind of community we want to be; this is not the kind of community that we are."

A common refrain among the speakers tonight was the observation that this was not an isolated incident. Although it doesn't usually make the news, these kinds of attacks are becoming almost common place. And, as several speakers pointed out, these kinds of attacks are almost predictable when coming from a culture in which racist legislation is passed to make some people illegal, in which radio talk show hosts make careers out of bad-mouthing people of color, and in which working class people are played against each other for the crumbs under the table in order to keep them from ever demanding their fair share of the feast being served on the top of the table. (As one speaker noted about the teenagers who perpetrated this attack, "They are tomorrow's Rush Limbaughs, they are tomorrow's Lars Larsons.")

Several speakers also noted that racism is not just a rural problem, nor are people who live in rural areas predominantly racist. And, indeed, there were a lot of people there from Oregon City and its rural neighbors, all expressing solidarity with the Latino community in the aftermath of this obvious hate crime. (And it was, in fact, a hate crime, whether the DA wants to name it or not.)

One very questionable choice in speakers was Jim Strovink, the public information officer for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department. Those of you who saw 28 Seconds, the video about the murder of Fouad Kaady, will likely have recognized Strovink as the hapless and insensitive dolt who rambled about "naked guy" in the recorded police conversations that took place on the day of the killing. He rambled just as coherently today. Mr. Stovink addressed the community in an effort to, as he said, "provide assurance and confidence that this investigation is being handled professionally." Although he had nothing to say about why this crime is not being investigated as a hate crime, or why this community should have any confidence in this ridiculous assurance, he did speak in glowing terms about the "investigators." (Would these be the same investigators who told us that the cops who tortured and murdered an unarmed and injured Fouad Kaady did not violate the law? Well, that IS reassuring.) Strovink referred to these boneheads as "skilled investigators," as "capable," "dedicated," and a whole lot of other gushingly inappropriate words that really made me want to just yell at him. But, out of respect for the organizers of this event, I did not. Even though I really should have.

I just want to say one more thing about Strovink, and then I will move on. He had a lot of nerve even showing up there, and I cannot imagine why he was asked to. His short and silly speech was nothing more than a public relations spot for a gang of thugs that has no more interest in dealing with racism in Clackamas county than the Mafia has in cleaning up organized crime in Las Vegas. The CCSO is a racist gang to its core, and some of their sons were probably in Mulino throwing rocks that night. Strokvink attempted to minimize the seriousness of the attack by stating that the initial estimates of 20 or 30 rock-throwing teens were incorrect, that the number of men involved in the attack was much lower than that. He did not acknowledge the scary fact that, although the group throwing the rocks might have been smaller, there were at least 30 people there, probably many more if it was a typical warm night at Wagonwheeln, who stood there and let them, and did nothing to stop them. Strovink ended his farce by telling the somewhat skeptical crowd, "We are your Clackamas County Sheriff's office, and we are your community." What a frightening thought.

Several other speakers demanded to know why this crime is not being investigated as a hate crime, but both Mr. Strovink and the corporate media cameras had wandered away by then. That's a shame, because the calls for justice and the demands for a hate crime investigation drew raucous applause from the demonstrators. Later, Pastor Ike Harris of the Home Church Group in NE Portland led a prayer in which he pleaded, "Let justice run like a river through Oregon City, and through Mulino." May it be so.

These were my impressions from the evening. If you were there, please feel free to add your observations as well.

hate and acquiescence 04.Jun.2007 08:17

ald

i arrived late and missed most of the speakers, but i saw a lot of expressions of awareness of the connections between endorsement of the status quo, and these racist explosions of hatred. here are three pictures that show this -- the first one, a Jobs with Justice sign is modified to draw the connection between fighting for the rights of workers, and resisting the way the minutemen divide working class people against each other. the second two are of people gathered around an art display -- the display consisted of two pieces, a warped nationalistic figure who, decked with stars and stripes, hovers over a coffin and points a blood-red finger at the figure inside. the coffin was decorated with article clippings and seemed to be symbolic of more than just this one incident. the observers, prompted in both cases by the questions and insights of their children, were discussing what it meant.
JWJ against the minutemen
JWJ against the minutemen
death of compassion 1
death of compassion 1
death of compassion 2
death of compassion 2

no human being is illegal 04.Jun.2007 08:53

ald

i also took these pictures of a few of the folks the many grassroots organizers who were in attendance. in both cases because they wanted to be photographed with AFSC's "no human being is illegal" sign. i remember these signs from as far back as 1995, when organizers were joining together to fight back anti-immigrant legislation spurred by CA's proposition 187. It could be that the signs were used even earlier than that. the depth of the message can easily be missed -- it is a fundamental statement against the power of state. the message is that "illegal" is simply not a relevant category when speaking of humans. from my perspective -- as a white ally -- this has been the fundamental cry of the immigrants rights movement for over a decade, a deep river of conviction that undergirds all of the careful organizing that works to address the day-to-day reality of that living under a system that believes otherwise brings about.