Wheeler, Black leaders meet; ‘Tearing stuff up’ not helping


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Black community leaders and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke on Sunday at Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) to discuss further the ramifications of the weekend’s protests.

Sunday’s press conference, which started around 1:30 p.m., was the second talk of the day for Wheeler, who spoke earlier in the morning about Saturday night’s demonstrations. Wheeler also announced he extended the city’s curfew through at least Sunday night.

The discussion was moderated by SEI’s Chief Operating Officer Libra Forde, who began by acknowledging the people who were gathered outside of the building—despite not being able to come inside for the talk due to social distancing guidelines, they all participated in their own discussions on community, justice, and racism.

After introductory comments, Wheeler stood at the podium where he began by acknowledging the “deep mourning” the Black community was in from the “lives needlessly lost to police violence.”

“I want all of you to know, without any doubt, that I understand the significance of the moment in which we all find ourselves right now,” said Wheeler. “And I acknowledge that the violence, and the rioting and the property destruction that we’re seeing on the streets of this community, and across the nation, is the manifestation of a much bigger context. It’s a direct response to years of systematic injustice.”

He went on to say that he does not condone violence for the sake of the community’s safety, “but I also want to acknowledge some important historical contexts. I know and I understand that agitation…has historically occurred with purpose and resulted in change that has moved this nation forward.”

“People are hurting. Our community is grieving.”

In his remarks, Wheeler said leaders needed to do more, and that included himself. “I need to do more. I need to do much better.”

Ron Herdon, Director of Albina Head Start

Ron Herdon, Director of Albina Head Start, added his voice to Wheeler’s sentiments on the recent violence the community has seen this past weekend.

“If somehow you think that tearing up is going to help Black people, you are sadly mistaken. Please don’t think that you are doing us any favors by tearing stuff up,” said Herdon. “We have been the victims of that ever since 1619 when the slave ship arrived.”

Speaker Kali Thorne Ladd of KairosPDX spoke on the impact these events have on children. She drew on her studies in psychology and neurology as a reason to have hope for a new narrative for the next generation.

“Our words today can save lives tomorrow,” said Thorne Ladd.

Kali Thorne Ladd, KairosPDX

During his speech, Joe McFerrin, President and CEO of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, discussed how the youth and community at large can be helped through the health pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which has disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, and other minority communities.

He also shared his own personal traumatic experience with police violence.

“In 1974, as a 5-year-old kid living two blocks from here, my family went through a similar experience when portland police shot my uncle, Ricky Johnson, in the back of the head. So I know a little something about this type of pain,” said McFerrin.

“Before COVID-19 hit, and before the Geroge Floyd killing, the African American community struggled to be equitably treated by systems designed to help and protect. Sadly, we have not been able to break down systemic and structural barriers that have historically contributed and continue to contribute to the dispirit social determinants of health in our outcomes.”

Founder and CEO of SEI Tony Hopson Sr. concluded the discussion with plans to make COVID-19 testing available and free to the Black community at the center, starting in early June. More details on the plans for that are expected later this week.

The SEI discussion included Meyer Memorial Trust CIO Rukaiyah Adams, Bishop CT Wells, senior pastor of Emmanuel Church in Portland, and others.

Sunday morning, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oregon branch and the Oregon Justice Resource Center issued a joint statement condemning the implementation of a curfew as “an attack on our rights.”

The statement said in part, “This is a critical moment to confront police violence and brutality, protect black life, and support necessary healing for our communities of color through systematic reforms and resources. Instead, elected and public officials are responding to this moment using the same mechanisms that brought us here: aggressive policing. This curfew and response encourages law enforcement to continue targeting communities of color through a multitude of techniques which include an abuse of force.”

At least 48 people were arrested during Portland’s protest Saturday, police said, ranging in age from 19-49. A total of 26 people were charged with curfew violations, but all of them faced other, more serious charges, including riot, burglary, and disorderly conduct. Another nine minors were detained and released to their parents on charges including curfew violation, riot, disorderly conduct, riot, burglary, theft.

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