Sunday , July 25 2021

30 years after the wild heads defeated immigrants on Portland Street, the city reflects

As a girlfriend, Nkenge Harmon Johnson remembers to lower the train or bus MAX in downtown Portland and be careful not to cut Pioneer Courthouse Square.

It was in the late eighties or nineties. Harmon Johnson is black.

"It was not safe for me and my friends," said Harmon Johnson, now president and CEO of the Urban League of Portland. "Because Aryan, the neo-Nazi boys were arrested at the Pioneer Square. They walked away and smoked and talked."

Three decades later, the city center still does not feel safe for some African Americans.

Harmon Johnson remembers a recent message he read on a mailing list sent among friends. He warned her and other black people to move away that day because the Proud Children were walking down the street. Self-proclaimed western chauvinists who possessed weapons have already become known for their violent confrontations.

Harmon Johnson is a group of activists, community leaders and politicians who reflect on the evolution or not of Oregon – since Mulugeta Seraw was murdered 30 years ago on Tuesday.

Seraw, an 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was surrounded and mortified with a baseball bat whistle for three shaved heads in a street in South East Portland on November 13, 1988.

The Portland Urban League of Harmon Johnson is organizing a conference at the State University of Portland this week to focus on the death of Seraw and the future of Oregon. The theme of the conference is "Remember". Learn Change ".


What changed? "The date in the calendar," said Harmon Johnson.

The brutality of Seraw's death shook many. He was an immigrant fleeing from the violence of his own country that came here to get a college education and live the American dream when he was attacked for no other reason than the neo-Nazis did not like who he was.

The white people were surprised – "there was no way for people to explain it," said Harmon Johnson.

But for the blacks, said Harmon Johnson, it did not seem so amazing because it adjusted to the reality of a Portland he had met through repeated experiences with racial aggression.

Then last year, Harmon Johnson once again surprised the white people and the less surprise of minority communities when the police said Jeremy Christian fatally stabbed two men in the neck and nearly killed a third with a MAX train. The men intervened when Christian directed a racist and xenophobic dictatorship in two African-American adolescents, according to witnesses.

"People say:" Oh, my heart. How could this happen in Portland – not loving, progressive of Portland, "said Harmon Johnson. "And (we) say …" What does this mean in Portland? "We know this can happen because white supremacists are allowed to wander free so that they are completely inadequate."

Harmon Johnson cited as an example the Portland police who did not arrest the Christian the night before the attack, when an African-American woman said he hated hatred against blacks, Jews and Muslims, then threatened to kill her and threw a plastic bottle full of Gatorade in her face. The police responded to the Rose Quarter MAX station but let Christians go. Later, the police issued a statement in disagreement with the account of the woman who had identified Christian as his attacker.

The police said he did not have it. Harmon Johnson also pointed out the practice of the Portland police for two decades to maintain a list of suspected gang members and affiliates. An Oregonian / OregonLive research in 2016 found that 81 percent of the 359 people on the list were racial or ethnic minorities. The agency deleted the list last year under public criticism, but an auditor later found the police that he was keeping a second list of suspected gang members.

Harmon Johnson said the police unjustly concentrated on smaller and minority men who think they are gangs but do not pay close attention to white gangs with supremacist ties.

The same goes for federal authorities, who ignore white supremacists when they create terrorist lists, he said. The New York Times reported this month that the counter-terrorism strategy of the federal government has been focusing almost 20 years almost exclusively on Islamic militants and not on white supremacists and members of the far right, though they have killed many people since September 11. 2001, than Islamic or other domestic extremists.

"White supremacists are terrorists," said Harmon Johnson.


Kenneth Mieske, 23-year-old who seriously beat Seraw, was sentenced to life for murder and died in 2011 at age 45 while in jail. Compliance Kyle H. Brewster ended serving more than 13 years before its release in 2002 and the accomplice Steven R. Strasser served more than a decade before leaving prison in 1999.

Although he was never tried, a quarter – Tom Metzger – had to pay for what the civil jury of Multnomah County Circuit Court determined later that it was his role in the death. Metzger was the founder of White Aryan Resistance.

The jury granted the family of Seraw $ 12.5 million after making a historical finding that Metzger was responsible for Seraw's death by sending recruitment to Portland to lie to a local branch of skinheads, the East Side White Pride. The jury accepted that Metzger encouraged the three members to release violence against whites.

The family ended up collecting a fraction of the verdict – after Metzger was forced to sell his home in Southern California – but it was enough to avoid the racist organization of Metzger and provide a child's egg for the 10-year-old son of Seraw . One of the civil lawyers of Seraw, James McElroy, adopted the boy. Today, Seraw's son is a commercial plane pilot.

Elden Rosenthal, another of the lawyers who represented the Seraw family, said he saw Metzger and his white national opinions at the time as in the strip – extreme and weird.

"I just thought I was with this tiny minority of people," said Rosenthal, who lost members of his Jewish family to the Holocaust. "Now we know it was just the tip of the iceberg."

Rosenthal said he believes that President Donald Trump has encouraged an increase in racist rhetoric. Trump came under a steady constant of criticism for his comments on Latin Americans, the Muslim ban on his administration, calling the immigrants' caravan as an "invasion" and holding meetings of a "building wall."

"It's the same message," said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal recently read a transcript of Metzger's final arguments during the 1990 civil trial. He said that he was amazed to see much of what Metzger told the jurors seems to reflect Trump's words and those of his sympathizers.

Metzger spoke of his neighborhood in California as "destroyed" by an "invasion" of Mexicans. Metzger said the United States was changing for the worse. Metzger worried about the situation of white Americans and workers – he said that many people felt exactly how to fix it, "said Rosenthal.

"There is a growing subclass of white people in this country," said Metzger. "They are falling down the grid. They are getting poorer and poorer and poorer every day. And they do not like what's happening in this country."

Given the political success of Trump, Rosenthal said he has come to recognize that such nationalistic views are part of a major segment of society.

"These things can happen here, just in the progressive sanctuary of the city of Portland, because there are people like this and we can not ignore it," said Rosenthal, still a lawyer working in Portland.

"It can happen here, it happened here and will happen again if we do not educate our children," he said. "It is the work of a progressive civilization to always be on the alert and always hit it when it returns the head".


Randy Blazak has spent the last three decades studying hate groups and is the president of the Ode Coalition against hate crime. In the middle of calls such as that of Rosenthal for surveillance, Blazak also sees promising developments in a state that is overwhelmingly white.

Community members are increasingly willing to speak, said Blazak. After the arrest of Jeremy Christian, people kept candles and wrote messages of love and racial harmony at the Hollywood MAX station, he said.

"The whole community has come out," said Blazak. "This is important for two reasons: it shows the victims that" we can not seem to you or pray with you, but we are with you. "He also sends a message to the author that" we can appear with you, you are not with you ".

Such support shows have emerged in the most conservative and rural areas of the state, too, said Blazak.

He pointed to John Day in 2010, when Aryan nations expressed an interest in buying property there for their new national headquarters. Aryan nations eventually abandoned the idea after hundreds of neighbors appeared at a council meeting to express their indignation.

"It was so inspired," said Blazak.

Portland police developed plans and trainings to try to address the racial profile and implicit prejudice, community groups worked with the police to increase understanding among LGBTQ officers and people and people who charge for others because of their race , identity of gender, religion or another. differences, he said.

State legislators passed the first laws of "intimidation" in the 1980s.

"Part of it is trying to send a message," said Judge Blazak.

In 2017, a white man told an African-American man who was "in the wrong neighborhood" in northeastern Portland and tried to make a pitbull on him. Mathu Karcher, the white man, was convicted of second-degree intimidation in February and served 16 days in prison.

Also last year, a Portland driver shouted to a pregnant Muslim woman to get her hijab and then made him shoot him with her husband imitating a weapon with his fingers. Fredrick Sorrell was convicted of second-degree intimidation in August. He was in charge of taking angry management classes and having a significant discussion with members of the Muslim community in Portland.

"We will not tolerate anyone in any protected class who is attacked and, if we can process it, absolutely," said Brent Weisberg, a spokesman for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.

"We always want people to get in touch with law enforcement when they think they can be victims of a crime of hate," Weisberg said. "This is something that is a priority for our office."

The Harmon Johnson of the Urban League considers that such accusations of people who threaten with hate that threaten but do not physically harm others are an exception and not the rule. Too many times, the reports will start and people stop resorting to the police when they are victims, he said.

She described an employee of the Urban League who was threatened by a man with a knife while yelling angry. But when the officer called the police, the officers could not investigate, said Harmon Johnson.

"These people are envalent because they come out with her," said Harmon Johnson. "And many people do not inform him because his answer is that they think that the police will not do anything about it."

Blazak, nevertheless, thinks that remarkable progress has taken place since the death of Seraw.

"There are all these reasons to be skeptics," said Blazak. "There is a lot of institutional racism."

Blazak, who is white, spent his childhood in the 1970s in Georgia, before settling in the Northwest as an adult.

"I grew up in a city where police and Klan were the same people," said Blazak. "But the change I've seen in my life, I'm excited."

Events of memory

Tuesday, November 13 marks 30 years since Mulugeta Seraw was killed by a baseball bat in southeast Portland by heads of racist race. The community is marking the anniversary in several ways:

* The Urban League of Portland sponsors the "Mulugeta Seraw Commemoration Conference" on Tuesday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Click here to register.

* Wednesday, 8:50 a.m .: Presentation of "top toppers" that will mark the corners of the street along Southeast Avenue 31 and Pine Street, the place where Seraw was mortally struck. The "toppers" will be attached to the street signs immediately and will show the photo and the name of Seraw.

* Wednesday, 2 p.: The City of Portland will be presented with a proclamation in memory of Seraw.

– Aimee Green

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