Serial, unpermitted marches; a die-in on a major bridge; even overnight encampment at City Hall did not get #BlackLivesMatter concerns into meetings with the Mayor/ Police Commissioner in Portland, Oregon. Instead of allowing public testimony on a secretly negotiated police contract, the City repeatedly ordered police suppression. One bone was broken; throngs were subjected to chemical weapons, nearly a dozen were arrested on 13 October 2016.
On the day of the police riot, a citizen journalist with whom I occasionally collaborate posted video of his morning commute. Joe Anybody recorded something extraordinary. It may astound folks who tediously organize public involvement: he found spontaneous solidarity.
I acknowledge the above, 18-minute video requires sacrifice of moments spent otherwise. There’s a certain tension, watching the vignette roll out in real time, however. Transit riders grow ever later in arrival at work: a Fare Inspector counts on public fatigue. He cites one, and seeks that a second, unrelated Woman of Color step from the train … and into his custody.
The narrative is in full donnybrook within minutes, with commuters contending the woman aboard has a ticket. They jeer at law enforcement, about whether the African American rider or badged Inspectors themselves are responsible for delay, as the latter hold the train for armed police. At 3 minutes, Joe suggests the men step into the car, as is their normal practice. A surly Inspector threatens him with forced removal as well.
You have to remember that these riders did not know one another … let alone the targets.
At nearly 14 minutes another train has arrived. Most stalled passengers have exited the car: a small bloc remains to support the woman. Conversation grows poignant. A White woman confesses, her voice breaking, “I just wanted to stand up for you. I haven’t done it in the past, and I’m not keeping my mouth shut anymore.” She knows society has alternatives, and thinks “We can do better than this.”
At 15 minutes a Supervisor, perhaps informed police are instead massing at City Hall, announces the train is “being taken out of service.” It’s a moment of truth. It’s no longer a period of discussional uplift: the small group faces authorities’ uncertain consequences. They disembark, admonitions of criminal trespass reverberating in their resolve.
It’s a bit of a plot spoiler to point out that Joe Anybody titled his documentary ‘TRI-MET UNARREST.’ Some may be unfamiliar with reference to a street tactic used by marchers and protesters to directly assist individuals in escaping arrest. Even without a musical soundtrack, it makes great drama.
The social practice of unarrest evokes smuggling of self-liberated slaves that Rev. William Hardesty (1776-1846) engaged in. (I’d call it the Underground Railroad, but the machinery had not yet been invented.)
I can think of study questions.
How have times changed, since the Jim Crow Era, when Blacks were segregated in public conveyances?
A BitterSweet value is “Seeking justice; expressing and experiencing mercy and compassion that lead us, and those around us, toward peace and healing.” Do we confine this work to safe environments, where others have convened with a shared agenda? Can it be a way of living, one which prevails against adversity?
Perhaps you’ve not taken to the streets, in direct action to make #BlackLivesMatter. (See right.) Members of the national, General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2015 laid themselves across Portland’s light rail tracks. Their die-in fractionally commemorated the 4 ½ hours Michael Brown’s body lay on a Ferguson street. This reporting indicates a common response when interrupting the flow, when requiring pause among busy people in the nation’s whitest city of its size: “Multiple drivers who were inconvenienced by the traffic yelled obscenities at the protest. Two teenage passersby were heard questioning whether messing up people’s day was the best way to “get us on your side.”” The above, 2016 transit riders – after a 20-minute commitment – were not yet on track to get to their jobs. Having witnessed their efforts, do you feel differently about traffic delay, brought on by civil disobedience?
How much time do you have, for racial justice?
Donald Thompson III was assaulted with chemical weapons after attempting to address Portland, Oregon City Council on Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo by Julia Comnes, reproduced by Willamette Week.)