Updated: Mar 14
Last night, I did something that was out of character for me. I went to see the Portland protests in person and alone. No one knew I was going and that was intentional because I didn’t want to be talked out of it or reconsider. With all the media coverage and having seen the Justice Building defaced, I expected to walk into a war zone. With that in mind, I parked several blocks away from the epicenter arriving at the scene at around 8:30 PM.
Before I get into what I experienced, I’d like to explain why I went. For one, hearing John Lewis’s last letter crushed me with a deep sadness. The world lost a man who invested his life trying to make a difference and even in his last breaths, he remained hopeful that humankind would walk toward the light of unity. Of late, my hope in humanity has been waning. I also went because so many of my friends outside of Portland have asked if I’m okay, making comments wondering if I’m safe. Others have told me they hope I get out of “that place,” referring to the state I’ve called home for the last nine years. The final reason I went was because in 2012, I went to Amman, Jordan. Some of you may remember the war(s) waging in the middle-east during that period.
The week I visited, some 250,000 Syrian refugees had sought asylum in Jordan to escape the extreme violence against their people. One evening, we passed the Syrian Embassy on our way back to the hotel after an excursion to The Dead Sea. Outside the building were two protesters, holding signs–two. When we got to the hotel and switched on the news, a supposed “live broadcast” was underway. The commentator’s headline was, “Live, from the Syrian Embassy in Amman. The video that followed showed a sea of protestors chanting and waving signs. Since I’d just passed the building only ten minutes prior, I knew the news was untrue. We switched channels and found that same message across all stations. That was the first time I realized what “fake news” was and when I stopped believing in our media.
What happened when I went to the Portland “riots”? Well, the worst part of the night was seeing a number of people who were passed out, vomiting, and or appeared to be almost convulsing. This had nothing to do with the protests, and everything to do with the drugs they were using. When I arrived at the Justice Center, I found people of all walks–families, grandparent aged people (not like me), black people, white people. One older woman in a wheelchair and grey hair who met my eyes. I could see the determination in her gaze and I knew she had seen many protests over her life. What I found was organization, a clear message, and a huge group of mother’s marching while chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd. Say her name, Breonna Taylor.” There were volunteers controlling traffic, the media was there, an artist had established himself and was painting the scene.
What I also noticed was that many of the buildings weren’t damaged. In fact, most were not. Some had preemptively boarded up windows and upon many of those wooden facades were painted murals with messages of love. I had heard from a talk radio show earlier in the day that the justice building was left defaced intentionally–vandalism is not something I condone–because it made the most impactful media angle. Destroying property is ignorant and conveys nothing meaningful. “Use your words,” was something we were all taught as toddlers. All other buildings were either cleaned or had not been affected.
The realization that I found after seeing the situation first hand, underlined my experiences from that excursion to the middle-east. The news is slanted and is made by the people who have an agenda. The state of Oregon and the West Coast in general is broadly impacted by a growing population of homeless people. They aren’t Oregonians, in fact, most are transient and seek refuge here because we don’t sweep them away or force them out. It’s a shame that this condition exists and worse that there seems to be no plan in sight to house people, even those who are on drugs or dealing with mental health disorders. If you’re in a city without a homeless problem, it is because you’ve sent your people away. They are here. Where is the media on this topic? Where is the federal aid to take care of these citizens and to make the community a clean and safe place for all?
The protests may have gotten out of hand at the onset, but the homeless problem has persisted for a long, long time. We live in a society where people are desperate for hope and seeing a man who appears to be dead, and another, and another as you walk only a few city blocks, is more-dire than the spray paint that can be washed away. However, there is no impact on showing this situation. No votes will come by broadcasting the truth of homelessness.
As I close, I’d like to leave you with this simple message, turn off the TV and see the world for yourself. Witness first-hand what is happening and make your own decisions. The news is important, but you must remember those outlets are owned. They are profit centers and they don’t make money unless you are engaged. The news we see is sometimes filtered intentionally to elicit a response. Feel your own feelings, make your own observations and when you do watch the news, do so with some level of skepticism. The world is best viewed from your own lens.
May John Lewis rest in peace and may we finally live in a society that doesn’t see color. If you want to be blind about things, be color blind. And to those well-intentioned law officers out there, thank you for the service you provide. You yield a great amount of power, tread lightly, and know that we need you. In every group, there is good and bad. We know most of you are good. John Lewis knew it and so do I.
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