30 years after skinheads defeated an immigrant on Portland Street, the city reflects


As a young man, Nkenge Harmon Johnson remembers that he descended from the MAX in Portland to ensure he did not cross the Pioneer Courthouse Square.

It was the end of the eighties or the nineties of the 20th century. Harmon Johnson is black.

"It was not safe for me and my friends," said Harmon Johnson, now chairman and chief executive officer of the Portland Urban League. "Because Aryani, neonacist leather heads had a court at Pioneer Square, they hung on stairs and smoked and chatted."

Three decades later, it still does not seem safe for some African Americans.

Harmon Johnson draws attention to the recent message she read in the list of emails sent by her friends. She warned her and other black people that they stayed that day because proud boys went down the street. Self-produced spy chauvinists who own guns have become known for their violent confrontations.

Harmon Johnson is one of the groups of activists, community leaders and policymakers who are thinking about how Oregon developed – or not – since Mulugeta Seraw was murdered thirty years ago on Tuesday.

Seraw, a 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was surrounded on 13 November 1988 in south-eastern Portland Street and died until his death with an anchor rod with three skinheads.

The Harmon Johnson Urban League of Portland is organizing a conference at the University of Portland this week to focus on Seraw's death and the future of Oregon. The theme of the conference is "Remember yourself, learn to change."


What has changed? "Date on the calendar," said Harmon Johnson.

The brutality of Seraw's death shook a lot. He was an immigrant who escaped from violence from his country who came here to go to higher education and live an American dream when he attacked him for no other reason than Neo-Nazis like who he was.

He hanged white people – "people could not explain," said Harmon Johnson.

But to black people, Harmon Johnson said that it did not seem incredible because it corresponded to the reality of Portland, which they had learned from recurring experiences of racial aggression.

Last year, Harmon Johnson again saw a shock among whites and less a surprise from minority communities when the police said that Jeremy Christian killed two men in the neck and nearly killed a third on the MAX train. Men intervened because he directed Christianity to racist and xenophobic tirade at two African American teens, they said.

"People say," Oh, my God. How this happened in Portland – not love, progressive Portland, "said Harmon Johnson. "And we (re) say …" What do you mean, how can this happen in Portland? "We know that this can happen because white supremacists can be left for free in ways that are completely inadequate."

Harmon Johnson cited the Portland Police as an example that the night before the attack will not arrest Christian, when an African American woman said she had given hatred against black men, Jews and Muslims, and then threatened to kill her and throw her bottle filling from Gatorade on the face. The police reacted to the Rose Quarter MAX station, but the Christianity went away. Later, the police issued a statement that disagreed with the woman's report that she had identified Christian as her attacker.

The police said it was not. Harmon Johnson also drew attention to the two-year practice of the Portland Police Office to keep a list of suspected members of the band and affiliates. In the Oregonian / OregonLive survey in 2016, it was found that 81 percent of the 359 people were on the list of racial or ethnic minorities. Last year, the Office removed the list under public criticism, but later the auditor found that the police led another list of suspected members of the gang.

Harmon Johnson said that the police are dishonestly focusing on younger, minority men who they think are in the gangs, but they do not pay attention to the white gangs with the prevailing ties.

The same is true for federal authorities who do not take into account white supremacists in the design of terrorist papers, she said. The New York Times reported this month that the federal government's anti-terror strategy has focused almost exclusively on Islamic militants for almost 20 years, rather than white supremacists and members of the extreme right – although many more people have been killed since September 11, 2001, like Islamic or other domestic extremists.

"White supremacists are terrorists," said Harmon Johnson.


Kenneth Mieske, a 23-year-old who was hit by Serawa, was sentenced to life for murder and died in 2011 in 45 years of imprisonment. Judge Kyle H. Brewster appeared more than 13 years before his release in 2002 and served his accomplice Steven R. Strasser more than a decade before he was released from prison in 1999.

Although never persecuted, the fourth man – Tom Metzger – had to pay for what the Civil Jury of the District Court in Multnomah later specified, his role in death. Metzger was the founder of the California White Aryan Resistance group.

The jury awarded a family of $ 12.5 million to the family after making a groundbreaking finding that Metzger was dependent on Seraw's death by sending her to Portland to mentor a local branch of fur, East Side White Pride. The jury agreed that Metzger encouraged those members to trigger violence on non-white people.

In the end, the family collected part of the decision – after Metzger had to sell his south cage house – but it was enough to damage Metzger's racist organization and provide a gnawing egg for Seraw's 10-year-old son. One of the civil lawyers of Seraw, James McElroy, was adopted by a boy. Today, Seraw's son is a commercial airliner.

Elden Rosenthal, one of the lawyers representing Seraw's family, said that he then saw Metzger and his white nationalist views as on the edge – extreme and rare.

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

Rosenthal said he believed President Donald Trump had boosted the growth of racist rhetoric. Trump almost criticized for his comments on Latin American people, the Muslim bank of his administration, who called the immigrant caravan an "invasion" and the attitude of the red walls.

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

Rosenthal recently read a transcript between Metzger's final arguments during a civil trial in 1990. He said he was surprised to see much what Metzger told the jury that he was the mirror of Trump's words and those of his supporters.

Metzger spoke of his "cozy little" neighborhood in California, which was "ruined" by Mexicans. Metzger said that America is changing to worse. Metzger is concerned about the situation of white people, American workers in the class, and said that many felt exactly the way he did it, Rosenthal said.

"In this country, there is a sub-class of white people," Metzger said. "They go through the grid, they become poorer, poorer and poorer, and they do not like what is happening in this country."

In view of the political success of Trump, Rosenthal said that he acknowledged that such nationalist views are part of the main segment of society.

"These things can happen here, right in the progressive Sanctuary 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 it will be repeated if we do not educate our children," he said. "It is the task of progressive civilization, which is always on the alert and always burdens it when it collapses."


For the past three decades, Randy Blaz has studied hostile groups and is the president of the Oregon Coalition against Hate. During a call, such as Rosenthal for alertness, Blaze also sees promising events in a country that is predominantly white.

Members of the community are more and more willing to speak, Blaza said. When Jeremy Christian was arrested, people kept a candlelight candle and wrote messages of love and racial harmony at the Hollywood MAX station, he said.

"The whole community has come out," Blaza said. "This is important for two reasons: it shows the victims that" we may not look the same as you, nor pray with you, but stand with you. "He also sends a message to the perpetrator that" we can look like you, you are not with you. ""

Such supportive support has appeared in rural, more conservative corners of the country, Blaze said.

He pointed to John Day in 2010, when the Aryan nations expressed interest in buying real estate there for their new national headquarters. In the end, the Aryan peoples abandoned the idea when hundreds of residents appeared at a meeting of the city hall to express their horror.

"It was so inspiring," Blaza said.

Police in Portland have developed plans and training to tackle racial profiling and implicit bias, community groups have worked with the police to increase understanding between officers and people of LGBTQ and prosecutors charged people who target others because of their race, gender identity, religion or other differences, he said.

In the 1980s, national legislators adopted the first "bullying" laws.

"A piece is trying to send a message," Blaza said on the prosecution.

In 2017, a white man told Afroamerican that he was "in the wrong neighborhood" in northeastern Portland and tried to shout at him. Mathu Karcher, a white man, was sentenced in February for other intimidation and was in prison for 16 days.

Last year, the driver from Portland, a pregnant Muslim woman, chuckled to remove her hijab and then pretended to shoot her and her husband by imitating the gun with his fingers. Fredrick Sorrell was convicted in August of the second-degree intimidation. He was ordered to accept classes for languages ​​and reasonably discuss with members of the Muslim community in Portland.

"We will not tolerate that anyone in any protected class will be attacked – and if we can persecute it, we will be absolutely", said Brent Weisberg, spokesman for the district prosecutor's office of the county of Multnomah County.

"We always want individuals to get in touch with law enforcement authorities if they think they would be the victims of hatred," Weisberg said. "This is something that is a priority for our office."

Harmon Johnson of the Urbane League believes that such persecutions are people who are hateful, threatening, but not physically harming others, the exception rather than the rule. Reports are often overdue and people stop turning to the police when they are victims, she said.

She described an employee of the Urban League, who was threatened by a man with a knife when he dug out the race. But when a police officer called the police, officials did not conduct an investigation, said Harmon Johnson.

"These people are enriched because they get rid of it," said Harmon Johnson. "And many people do not report because their answer, they think, the police will not do anything about it."

However, Bloc believes that there has been noticeable progress since the death of Sera.

"All these causes are skeptical," Blaza said. "There is a lot of institutional racism."

A white holiday, he spent his childhood in the seventies in Georgia before finally settling in the northwest as an adult.

"I grew up in a city where policemen and clan were the same people," Blaza said. "But the change I've seen in my life encourages me."

Remembering events

Tuesday, November 13th, marked 30 years since Mulugeta Seraw was murdered with a baseball bat in southeastern Portland with racist skinheads. The Community celebrates the anniversary in various ways:

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

* Wednesday, 8:50 pm: Discovery of "Signal Peaks", which will mark street corners around Southeast 31st Avenue and Pine Street, where Seraw is deadly beaten. The "ropes" will be attached to the street signs in the immediate vicinity and display the photo and the name Serawa.

* Wednesday, 2nd m.: Portland City Council will be presented with a commemoration of Serawa.

– Aimee Green

[email protected]


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